3D Printed Hubble Images Are Tactile Experience for the Blind

(Hubble Site) Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., are experimenting with the innovative technology to transform astronomy education by turning images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope into tactile 3D pictures for the blind or people who have limited vision. The 3D printed design is also useful and intriguing for sighted people who have different learning styles. In the 3D representations, stars, filaments, gases, and dust shown in Hubble images of the bright star cluster NGC 602 have been transformed through 3D printing into textures, appearing as raised open circles, lines, and dots in the 3D printout. These features also have different heights to correspond with their brightness.

Astronomers Carol Christian and Antonella Nota of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. are the principals of the project. “It’s very easy to take any tool or object that you can actually measure and produce a 3D printout,” Nota said. “But it’s very hard to think of an astronomical object about which you know very little. You can measure the sizes and brightnesses of space objects from the images, as well as some of the distances. But it’s really hard to understand their 3D structure. The work is scientific, but it’s also guesswork and artistry to try to produce an object, which when printed, will look like the image that Hubble has taken. So, we are basically designing the process from scratch.”