OSC Colloquium: Katie Bouman, "Capturing our Dynamic Galactic Black Hole with Computational Imaging"

March 14, 2024

Image Science

Katie Bouman


Capturing our Dynamic Galactic Black Hole with Computational Imaging


At the heart of our Milky Way galaxy lies a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A* that is evolving on the timescale of mere minutes. This talk will present the methods and procedures used to produce the first images of Sagittarius A* as well as discuss future directions we are taking to map its evolving environment in 3D. It has been theorized for decades that a black hole will leave a "shadow" on a background of hot gas. However, due to its small size, traditional imaging approaches require an Earth-sized radio telescope. In this talk, I discuss techniques we have developed to photograph a black hole using the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of telescopes scattered across the globe. Recovering an image from this data requires solving an ill-posed inverse problem which necessitates the use of image priors to reduce the space of possible solutions. Imaging Sagittarius A* proved especially challenging due to the rapid time-variability that had to be accounted for. Although we have learned a lot from these initial images already, remaining scientific questions motivate us to improve this computational telescope to see black hole phenomena still invisible to us. In particular, we will discuss approaches we have developed to incorporate data-driven score-based priors into the imaging process to understand the sensitivity of the black hole image to different underlying assumptions. Additionally, we will discuss how we are developing techniques that will allow us to extract the evolving structure of our own Milky Way's black hole over the course of a night. In particular, we introduce Orbital Black Hole Tomography, which integrates known physics with a neural representation to map evolving flaring emission around the black hole in 3D for the first time.


Katherine L. (Katie) Bouman is an assistant professor in the Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Electrical Engineering, and Astronomy Departments at the California Institute of Technology. Her work combines ideas from signal processing, computer vision, machine learning, and physics to find and exploit hidden signals for scientific discovery. Before joining Caltech, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She received her Ph.D. in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT in EECS, and her bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She is a Rosenberg Scholar, Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator, recipient of the Royal Photographic Society Progress Medal, Electronic Imaging Scientist of the Year Award, University of Michigan Outstanding Recent Alumni Award, and co-recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. As part of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, she is co-lead of the Imaging Working Group and acted as coordinator for papers concerning the first imaging of the M87* and Sagittarius A* black holes.



Florian Willomitzer, Colloquium Chair & Professor: colloquium@optics.arizona.edu