Eur. J. Phys. 38, 015601 (2016)

Credit: IOP

The skies are filled with the Universe's oldest light: a relic of when expansion and cooling first enabled electrons and protons to form hydrogen and for photons to travel freely through space. Analysing the features in this cosmic microwave background (CMB) has been — and continues to be — crucial to understanding the early Universe and the origin of cosmic structure. David Clements and colleagues have now shown how 3D printing can provide a new way to visualize the CMB.

As the resolution of instruments improves, finer details have to be included in the all-sky map of the CMB, which is usually projected onto two-dimensions with colour used to represent the temperature. By converting data from the European Space Agency's Planck collaboration, which is available online, into CAD files, Clements et al. used 3D printing to produce a solid three-dimensional representation of the CMB (pictured), using both colour and topography to represent variations in the temperature. They hope that this approach, which could be applied to other astrophysical or cosmological data sets, will be useful for outreach and teaching — and possibly even research.