Universe Sandbox 2 is the second installment of Universe Sandbox that is available on Steam. It is an educational simulation game based on astronomy and anything space, it ranges from supernova animations to climate and atmospheric simulations (and of course collisions) but do any of these features hold water? Do they truly resemble the dynamics of space?


Not sure if these kinds of questions are allowed here, but I may as well answer it.

Universe Sandbox 2 is mostly realistic. Its accuracy degrades as you increase the flow of time. The slower the time, the more accurate the calculations. This means that if you want to simulate the Solar System over a long period of time, it won't be very accurate. If you want to simulate day-long events, like planets crashing, it might be better.

However, Universe Sandbox 2 uses 300-year old Newtonian physics, rather than general relativity. Newtonian physics just requires n-body mechanics, so it is much easier to implement. General relativity requires simulating the spacetime itself. That is, taking your simulation space, discretizing it to a hi-res 3-D grid and checking the effect that each and every point in that grid has on all neighboring points at every timestep.

Instead of simulating N number of bodies, they would be simulating a huge number of points. They would start with some initial data of the shape of spacetime and then see how it evolves according to the Einstein equations, which are 10 highly non-linear partial differential equations. Accurate general relativity simulations require supercomputers.

Still, Newtonian physics can get the job done for the most part. The developers seem interested in incorporating some GR concepts, like gravity propagating at the speed of light, spinning black holes and ways to better approximate GR.

  • $\begingroup$ I wonder... have you ever played the game? You seem to be very knowledgeable about it. Unlike me, although I have it. +1 for relatability and detail, like always. $\endgroup$ – Mobal Jun 27 '16 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Mobal I play it from time to time. :) $\endgroup$ – Sir Cumference Jun 27 '16 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Hello, fellow Universe Sandbox player :) $\endgroup$ – Mobal Jun 27 '16 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ Modern computers are extremely powerful -- my desktop's CPU alone would have made the Supercomputer Top 500 any year prior to 2001; factor in a high-end video card, and you could probably remain on the list until the mid-2000s. Accurate GR simulations aren't too far out of reach. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 27 '16 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark Considering Newtonian physics run slowly with Universe Sandbox, GR would be nuts. $\endgroup$ – Sir Cumference Jun 27 '16 at 22:45

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