Stellar Nurseries in the Palm of Your Hand

Editor’s note: AAS Nova is on vacation until 22 September. Normal posting will resume at that time; in the meantime, we’ll be taking this opportunity to look at a few interesting AAS journal articles that have recently been in the news or drawn attention.

When art and science meet, beautiful things can happen. For the first time, scientists have used 3D printing to create tangible models of molecular clouds. Nia Imara (University of California, Santa Cruz) and collaborators first performed a series of nine simulations in order to test how gravity, magnetism, and turbulence affect the formation of gas clumps and filaments in star-forming regions. Using a combination of opaque and transparent materials, they then printed multiple 8-centimeter-wide spheres and hemispheres to showcase the results of their simulations.

Their 3D-printed models demonstrate the effects of changing various physical parameters and highlight structures that can be hard to identify in 2D representations of 3D simulations. For example, cranking up the magnetic field strength suspends gas filaments along the magnetic field lines, while suppressing the magnetic field allows the gas to collapse, leaving behind voids. In addition to the scientific benefits of these models, the authors hope that their hand-held nature will make them a useful tool for outreach and education.

Original article: “Touching the Stars: Using High-resolution 3D Printing to Visualize Stellar Nurseries,” N. Imara et al 2021 ApJL 918 L3. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/ac194e

University of California Santa Cruz press release: Astronomers Create the First 3D-Printed Stellar Nurseries