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3D Printing Meets Astrophysics: Deciphering the Structure of Eta Carinae's Homunculus Nebula and Colliding Stellar Winds

Tom Madura


Additive manufacturing or '3D printing' has the potential to improve the astrophysical community's ability to visualize, understand, interpret, and communicate important scientific results. In this talk, I summarize recent efforts to use 3D printing to understand in detail the 3D structure of a complex astrophysical system, the supermassive (~120 M_Sun) binary star Eta Carinae and its surrounding bipolar "Homunculus" nebula. Using mapping observations of molecular hydrogen line emission obtained with the ESO Very Large Telescope, we obtained a full 3D model of the Homunculus, allowing us to 3D print, for the first time, a detailed replica of a nebula. Our results reveal important deviations from the overall axisymmetric bipolar morphology of the nebula and two new structures that protrude from each main nebula lobe. I discuss how these features relate to the central interacting binary stars and what they imply for theories of the formation of the Homunculus. I also present 3D prints of output from a supercomputer simulation of the colliding stellar winds in the highly eccentric binary located near the center of the Homunculus. These 3D prints, the first of their kind, reveal previously unknown 'finger-like' structures at orbital phases shortly after periastron (when the two stars are closest to each other) that protrude radially outward from the spiral wind-wind collision region. We speculate that these fingers are related to instabilities that arise at the interface between the slow, dense post-shock primary-star wind and the faster, less-dense companion-star wind. The success of our work and easy identification of previously unrecognized physical features highlight the important role 3D printing can play in the visualization and understanding of complex 3D time-varying astrophysical phenomena.

Date: Jeudi, le 26 février 2015
Heure: 11:30
Lieu: Université de Montréal
  Pavillon Roger-Gaudry, local D-460
Contact: Noel Richardson / Tony Moffat

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