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Print your own Fast Radio Bursts

A FRB from 20 September 2016 printed in 3D shows complex structure

Image Credit: Danielle Futselaar - Photo usage: Brian P. Irwin / Dennis van de Water / Shutterstock.com

Fast Radio Bursts are mysterious high frequency radio signals that come from outside our galaxy, possibly from neutron stars. it is the structure of the radio signal itself that provides information about its source. As part of a research focus on these enigmatic flashes, an astroonmer at the University of Amsterdam has produced 3D printed models of the signals as an aid to understanding the structure. 

The FRBs show strong dispersion: the high frequency part of the signal arrives before the low frequency part, as a result of the signal travelling through the interstellar medium. The extreme dispersion is what indicates the extragalactic nature of the source. But other features of the signal arise from the source region. Astronomer Anne Archibold of the University of Amsterdam saw the potential of 3D printing to uncover the structure of these bursts. She has produced what are in essence solid plots of the intensity of the signal across frequencies, over time, for several FRBs. "I have a 3D printer and I like tinkering", she said. "I also had access to the Astronomical Institute data and thought that presentign it in this way would help in the anaylsis."

The 3D printed plots are intriguing objects in themselves, but their potential role in uncovering pattern and structure in the FRBs is scientifically significant. It is much easier for a non-expect to see within them the smaller features that researchers have identified as significant in the data as normally presented (as in the Nature paper on the same data, for example).  Archibold sees this as both a means of discovering new aspects of the data, and as a powerful tool for outreach, especially as a way to include those with visual impairments in the discoveries about these mysterious distant sources. 

You can now print your own FRBs and see for yourselves. Archibold has uploaded the designs to Thingiverse and they are freely available to print.