Early Universe Cosmic Microwave Background 3D Printed


A 3D printed map of the oldest light in the universe has been created by researchers at Imperial College London, and you can download the files and your print your own baby universe.

The cosmic microwave background is a glow that the universe has in the microwave range that maps the oldest light in the universe. It was imprinted when the universe first became transparent, instead of an opaque fog of plasma and radiation.

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) formed when the universe was only 380,000 years old - very early on in its now 13.8 billion-year history.

Cosmic Microwave Background Map

The Planck satellite is making ever-more detailed maps of the CMB, which tells astronomers more about the early universe and the formation of structures within it, such as galaxies. However, more detailed maps are increasingly difficult to view and explore.

To solve this difficulty, Dr Dave Clements from the Department of Physics at Imperial, and two final-year undergraduate students in Physics, have created the plans for 3D printing the CMB.

Dr Clements explains:

Differences in the temperature of the CMB relate to different densities, and it is these that spawned the formation of structure in the universe, including galaxies, galaxy clusters and superclusters.

Representing these differences as bumps and dips on a spherical surface allows anyone to appreciate the structure of the early universe. For example, the famous ‘CMB cold spot’, an unusually low temperature region in the CMB, can be felt as a small but isolated depression.“

The 3D Cosmic Microwave Background Map can be printed from a range of 3D printers, and two files types have been created by the team:

  • an STL file used for printing the monochrome version of the project

  • a VRML file used for printing the hollow coloured version of the project that includes the temperature differences represented as colors in addition to bumps and dips

STL stands for “stereolithography”, which is a 3D rendering that contains only a single color. This is the file format most people would use with desktop 3D printers. VRML (“vermal”, .WRL file extension) stands for “Virtual Reality Modeling Language”. VRML is a newer digital 3D file type that also includes color, so it can be used on desktop 3D printers with more than one extruder (i.e. two more nozzles that each can print with a different color plastic), or with full-color binder jetting technology.

You can download the files at this link.

Dr Dave Clements’ latest book is Infrared Astronomy – Seeing the Heat: from William Herschel to the Herschel Space Observatory

Original Study: Cosmic sculpture: a new way to visualise the cosmic microwave background

Image: courtesy of Imperial College London

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