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First image of a black hole gets a makeover with AI

The image released in 2019 gave a peek at the enormous black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, but AI has given it a touch-up.
Image of the M87 black hole released in 2019, left, and, an updated one for 2023.
Posted at 9:07 AM, Apr 13, 2023

The first image of a black hole captured four years ago revealed a fuzzy, fiery doughnut-shaped object. Now, researchers have used artificial intelligence to give that cosmic beauty shot a touch-up.

The updated picture, published Thursday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, keeps the original shape, but with a skinnier ring and a sharper resolution.

The image released in 2019 gave a peek at the enormous black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, 53 million light-years from Earth. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles. It was made using data gathered by a network of radio telescopes around the world, showing swirling light and gas.

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But even with many telescopes working together, gaps remained in the data. In the latest study, scientists relied on the same data and used machine learning to fill in the missing pieces.

The resulting picture looks similar to the original, but with a thinner "doughnut" and a darker center, researchers said.

"For me, it feels like we're really seeing it for the first time," said lead author Lia Medeiros, an astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey.

Medeiros said the team plans to use machine learning on other images of celestial objects, including possibly the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.