3D Printing Helps to Reveal the Secrets of the Superstar


3D printers are revolutionizing the fields of medicine, manufacturing and even astrology. 3D simulations are providing insight into the depths of our solar system, including Eta Carinae, one of the most explosive galaxies in our solar system.

The Doomed Superstar Eta Carinae

Michael Corcoran of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center refers to Eta Carinae as “an erratic stellar monster.” Though Eta Carinae is 7,500 light years away, it’s one of the brightest and largest stars in the night time sky — and estimated 10 billion miles across. First catalogued in 1677, it has faded and brightened repeatedly due to its volatile nature.

Eta Carinae is actually comprised of two highly unstable stars surrounded by gas shells. The larger star is 100 times the size of the sun, and the smaller star is 30 times the size of the sun. As these stars orbit, an immense amount of material, equivalent to the mass of Jupiter, is released.

According to Corcoran, the stars remain separate during most of their five-and half year orbit. But once per orbit the stars closely pass each other, and their competing supersonic solar winds — up to 420 kilometers per second — create a bow, or curved shockwave. This energy wave heats the gas shells to tens of millions of degrees, so hot that the gas emits x-rays. Corcoran frames it as “these stars are literally blowing themselves apart.”

Understanding Galaxies through 3D Simulation

Recently NASA scientists studying the intricacies of Eta Carinae captured the approach of these two stars with the Swift satellite. The team created complex computer simulations to predict movement of gas as the stars orbited, but the simulations were difficult to view on a computer screen.

Scientists turned to 3D printing to view all the stellar features of Eta Carinae. NASA researchers discovered finger-like protrusions from the bow shock believed to arise from instabilities in the heated gas. They hope that advanced 3D printed simulations will provide in-depth understanding of Eta Carinae and other galaxies, and provide a glimmer into the vast darkness of outer space.

Watch a NASA Video: Missions Take an Unparalleled Look into Superstar Eta Carinae