• 05.09.11

In Universe Sandbox, You Learn Astronomy By Playing God

This interactive space simulator gives you the power to wreck entire solar systems at will… you know, as a learning experience.

In Universe Sandbox, You Learn Astronomy By Playing God

Nothing against Sim Earth, Civilization, or other blockbuster “god games,” but my idea of playing god involves a lot less wonky project-management and a lot more 2012-style cataclysms. What would happen if you blew up the Moon” Or ripped up Saturn’s rings with a hail of rogue planets” Or rammed two whole galaxies together? Not only would it be awesome, you’d probably learn a bunch about astrophysics without even noticing it. At least, that’s what “Universe Sandbox” is hoping. Here’s a preview of what it lets you do:


Universe Sandbox knows that even the most beautiful space simulator isn’t going to keep a kid’s attention very long unless she can break the rules with it. So it goes for broke right from the get-go, urging players to “smash moons in orbit around a fictional planet,” “watch moons collapse into one another,” and “collide galaxies for fun.” Talk about good user-experience design.

The diabolically destructive fun is grounded in a scientific fact.

But of course, all that diabolically destructive fun is grounded in a rock-solid scientific fact. Yes, you can break the rules of how the universe actually looks in real life, but not how it fundamentally functions. Which means that when you bash the Milky Way into the Andromeda Galaxy, the resulting spray of star-stuff is a faithful representation of what such a cosmic apocalypse would actually look like. And when you’re done being a merely vengeful god and want to get more creative, Universe Sandbox is packed with geektacular features that let you visualize gravity wells, chart the paths of moons, rings, and comets, and even generate infographics like the one up top, which shows the 100 largest objects in the Solar System, lined up and to scale.



Why Universe Sandbox isn’t available on the iPad yet, I have no #$*&ing idea, because it would be a blockbuster. In the meantime, you can only play it on Windows. Let the god-games begin!

[Read more about Universe Sandbox]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.