Astronomy has always been at the cutting edge of technology. And now the worlds of stargazing and 3D printing are meeting, helping us understand what’s going on in the most luminous stellar system for light years around: Eta Carinae.

The system is comprised of two stars in orbit around each other. Both have intense stellar winds that can mask our view of the stars themselves. As the two stars whiz around each other, their respective winds can interact in different ways. To understand what’s going on, astronomers at NASA’s Ames Research Center used a 3D printer to turn their computer models into something physical.


The 3D printed model of the winds around Eta Carinae [credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center]

The result? A feature that hadn’t been noticed before: long protrusions in the flow of gas. They are thought to form as the result of instabilities in the flow and further research will probe this phenomena.


It’s a lovely example of new technology providing fresh perspective on the cosmos.