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Astronomy and space

Astronomy and space

Black hole image sparks Internet memes, unsavoury behaviour and a Google Doodle

12 Apr 2019 Michael Banks

Black hole Google Doodle
Google marks the first-ever image of a black hole. (Courtesy: Google)

Pi day is on 14 March while 31 October marks dark-matter day, but surely 10 April is now set to become “black hole day” following the landmark publication of the first-ever image of a black hole. Taking hundreds of astronomers belonging to the Event Horizon Telescope years to painstakingly piece together, the blob-like picture is likely to become an iconic image of modern science.

You can can find out all about the discovery by reading our news story, watching our video as well as listening to Physics World journalists discuss the results, which have been published in a special issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The finding made it onto most newspaper front pages the next day and for those in the UK it almost eclipsed the latest Brexit news. Although the Metro newspaper cunningly combined the two with the image accompanied by “What Brexit looks like from space”.

While some claimed — much to the dismay of many — that the image wasn’t that impressive, it was perfect fodder for an Internet meme. Hundreds duly obliged by creating and sharing their creations on social media with even the Royal Institution getting in on the act.

Some of our favourites include the black hole being compared to the eye of Sauron…

…a bagel

…and being combined with that other rich source of memes: cats.

It is even sparked a Google Doodle that was quickly put together on the day.

Unfortunately, the news also brought out the less humourous side of the Internet, with fake Twitter accounts being created for Katie Bouman – one of the key people behind the algorithm that produced the image. The accounts contained posts that looked fairly convincing, but once found out to be fake were quickly deleted.

There was also editing to her newly created Wikipedia page that downplayed her contributions in creating the image. But that has not deterred the page from being translated into 20 languages. And if you want to learn more about her work, then check out this TEDx talk she gave in 2016 about how to take images of black holes.

Keep an eye out for more coverage in the coming months.

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