NASA astrophysicists now know more about Eta Carinae, one of the most mysterious and brightest star systems, thanks in part to 3D printing technology. Eta Carinae is a star system made up of two large stars--the smaller of the two orbits the larger star in a 5-year cycle.
The smaller star speeds through dense stellar wind as it wraps around the larger star at its closest point, leaving a wake of intense bursts of x-rays in its path. Thomas Madura, from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, used 3D simulations to record the data of this phenomenon.
WhiteClouds then used the data to produce a physical model of the orbit and shockwave, producing a never-seen-before view of the internal structure of the system.
"Compared to standard 3D visualizations, the 3D prints provide more insights into what is going on in the stellar binary system," said Madura. "The ability to hold and inspect the 3D printed models provides a new perspective on the wind-wind interaction region's geometry and an improved sense of the scale of the different structures."
This is the first time 3D printing has been used in the study of astronomy and Madura believes 3D printing will play a role in studying other observations in the future.
WhiteClouds printed the full-color model on a ProJet 600Pro which prints, layer by layer, using a gypsum-based powder and liquid binding agent.
"I do think that this technology and 3D models like this will be used more in the future, said Madura, "especially as the analysis of 3D (and higher D) data becomes more important in the field of astronomy. We are currently looking into 3D printing 3D spectral mapping data of Eta Carinae obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope, which would be another first."
Madura believes the 3D models will not only help scientists, but also the general public, better understand these fascinating galactic objects.