From University of California-Santa Cruz (US) : “Astronomers create the first 3D-printed stellar nurseries”

From University of California-Santa Cruz (US)

September 02, 2021
Tim Stephens

The first 3D-printed stellar nurseries are highly polished spheres about the size of a baseball, in which swirling clumps and filaments represent star-forming clouds of gas and dust. Researchers created the models using data from simulations of star-forming clouds and a 3D printing process in which the fine-scale densities and gradients of the clouds are embedded in a transparent resin. (Photo by Saurabh Mhatre).

Astronomers can’t touch the stars they study, but astrophysicist Nia Imara is using 3-dimensional models that fit in the palm of her hand to unravel the structural complexities of stellar nurseries, the vast clouds of gas and dust where star formation occurs.

Imara and her collaborators created the models using data from simulations of star-forming clouds and a sophisticated 3D printing process in which the fine-scale densities and gradients of the turbulent clouds are embedded in a transparent resin. The resulting models—the first 3D-printed stellar nurseries—are highly polished spheres about the size of a baseball (8 centimeters in diameter), in which the star-forming material appears as swirling clumps and filaments.

“We wanted an interactive object to help us visualize those structures where stars form so we can better understand the physical processes,” said Imara, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and first author of a paper describing this novel approach published August 25 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

An artist as well as an astrophysicist, Imara said the idea is an example of science imitating art. “Years ago, I sketched a portrait of myself touching a star. Later, the idea just clicked. Star formation within molecular clouds is my area of expertise, so why not try to build one?” she said.

She worked with coauthor John Forbes at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics to develop a suite of nine simulations representing different physical conditions within molecular clouds. The collaboration also included coauthor James Weaver at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (US), who helped to turn the data from the astronomical simulations into physical objects using high-resolution and photo-realistic multi-material 3D printing.

The results are both visually striking and scientifically illuminating. “Just aesthetically they are really amazing to look at, and then you begin to notice the complex structures that are incredibly difficult to see with the usual techniques for visualizing these simulations,” Forbes said.

For example, sheet-like or pancake-shaped structures are hard to distinguish in two-dimensional slices or projections, because a section through a sheet looks like a filament.

“Within the spheres, you can clearly see a two-dimensional sheet, and inside it are little filaments, and that’s mind boggling from the perspective of someone who is trying to understand what’s going on in these simulations,” Forbes said.

The models also reveal structures that are more continuous than they would appear in 2D projections, Imara said. “If you have something winding around through space, you might not realize that two regions are connected by the same structure, so having an interactive object you can rotate in your hand allows us to detect these continuities more easily,” she said.

The nine simulations on which the models are based were designed to investigate the effects of three fundamental physical processes that govern the evolution of molecular clouds: turbulence, gravity, and magnetic fields. By changing different variables, such as the strength of the magnetic fields or how fast the gas is moving, the simulations show how different physical environments affect the morphology of substructures related to star formation.

Stars tend to form in clumps and cores located at the intersection of filaments, where the density of gas and dust becomes high enough for gravity to take over. “We think that the spins of these newborn stars will depend on the structures in which they form—stars in the same filament will ‘know’ about each other’s spins,” Imara said.

With the physical models, it doesn’t take an astrophysicist with expertise in these processes to see the differences between the simulations. “When I looked at 2D projections of the simulation data, it was often challenging to see their subtle differences, whereas with the 3D-printed models, it was obvious,” said Weaver, who has a background in biology and materials science and routinely uses 3D printing to investigate the structural details of a wide range of biological and synthetic materials.

“I’m very interested in exploring the interface between science, art, and education, and I’m passionate about using 3D printing as a tool for the presentation of complex structures and processes in an easily understandable fashion,” Weaver said. “Traditional extrusion-based 3D printing can only produce solid objects with a continuous outer surface, and that’s problematic when trying to depict, gases, clouds, or other diffuse forms. Our approach uses an inkjet-like 3D printing process to deposit tiny individual droplets of opaque resin at precise locations within a surrounding volume of transparent resin to define the cloud’s form in exquisite detail.”

He noted that in the future the models could also incorporate additional information through the use of different colors to increase their scientific value. The researchers are also interested in exploring the use of 3D printing to represent observational data from nearby molecular clouds, such as those in the constellation Orion.

The models can also serve as valuable tools for education and public outreach, said Imara, who plans to use them in an astrophysics course she will be teaching this fall.

See the full article here .


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UC Santa Cruz (US) Lick Observatory Since 1888 Mt Hamilton, in San Jose, California, Altitude 1,283 m (4,209 ft)

UC Observatories Lick Automated Planet Finder fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA.

The UCO Lick C. Donald Shane telescope is a 120-inch (3.0-meter) reflecting telescope located at the Lick Observatory, Mt Hamilton, in San Jose, California, Altitude 1,283 m (4,209 ft).
UC Santa Cruz (US) campus.

The University of California-Santa Cruz (US) , opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

UCO Lick Observatory’s 36-inch Great Refractor telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building.

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
March 23, 2015
By Hilary Lebow

Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

“Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego (US) who led the development of the new instrument while at the U Toronto Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (CA).

Shelley Wright of UC San Diego with (US) NIROSETI, developed at U Toronto Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (CA) at the 1-meter Nickel Telescope at Lick Observatory at UC Santa Cruz

Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by University of California-Berkeley (US) researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

Frank Drake with his Drake Equation. Credit Frank Drake.

“The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

“We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

“This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

“Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

NIROSETI will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.