You can now 3D print the oldest light in the universe

28 Oct 2016310 Views

The universe. Image: suns07butterfly/Shutterstock

Physicists in London have produced a 3D-printed model of the cosmic microwave background, the oldest light in the universe. Better still, the files are free to download.

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is a glow that the universe has, in what’s called the microwave range. This maps the oldest light in the universe and originates from when the cosmos became transparent for the first time.

3D printing

3D printing

If you want to see what it looks like, videos and images are the way to go. But, given that we have more senses than sight, Dr David Clements at Imperial College London had a brainwave.

“Presenting the CMB in a truly 3D form, that can be held in the hand and felt rather than viewed, has many potential benefits for teaching and outreach work, and is especially relevant for those with a visual disability,” said Clements.

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Shaped like a fist-sized orb, the indentations on the CMB are exaggerated areas of differing temperature, to help highlight differences that existed when the universe was only 380,000 years old.

“Differences in the temperature of the CMB relate to different densities,” said Clements, “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 CMB can be printed from a range of 3D printers, and two files types have been created by the team: one for simple single-colour structures and one that includes the temperature differences represented as colours, as well as bumps and dips. The files for both types are free to download.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic