These 3D-Printed Hubble Images Let Blind People See Outer Space

What does space feel like? I'm not talking about space itself—but rather the images we see in a telescope. Could you render those spectacular images into something that a blind person could experience? That's exactly what a pair of astronomers are trying to figure out.

Carol Christian and Antonella Nota, of the Space Telescope Science Institute, recently embarked on a laudable mission to help blind people see space in all it's glory. Of course, blind people can't see with their eyes because they're blind, but Christian and Nota want to help them see with their hands.

So they've devised a method of translating images taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope into three-dimensional designs that can be 3D-printed onto a flat surface. Blind people can feel these tactile 3D pictures to get an idea of what space looks like. It's kind of like a more free-form type of Braille.

These 3D-Printed Hubble Images Let Blind People See Outer Space

Figuring out exactly how to translate celestial objects into shapes and textures is no easy task, though.

"Imagine making a visualization that you visually fly through, and as you fly through, first you encounter filaments, and then you see some dust and also some stars," says Christian. "I want to represent that in 3-D and have people feel it with their fingers because they can't see it. They would be able to spatially understand where important features are relative to everything else and what the structure is."

These 3D-Printed Hubble Images Let Blind People See Outer Space

The ultimate goal is actually to make these 3D-printed space pictures 3D objects themselves. The astronomers liken the idea to a geode with all kinds of detail inside. They also want to make the CAD files public so anybody can 3D print the Hubble images. Until then, they're working with the National Foundation for the Blind as well as NASA to perfect the design process. From there, the sky's the limit. [NASA]

Images via American Astronomical Society © 2014 Joson Images