Universe Sandbox

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Universe Sandbox
Universe Sandbox Icon
Milky Way & Andromeda galaxies colliding in 4.5 billion years – A Universe Sandbox screenshot
Developer(s) Dan Dixon, Christian Herold, Georg Steinröhder, Thomas Grønneløv and Eric Hilton
Initial release May 2008
Stable release 2.2 / October 1, 2012
Operating system Windows
Platform PC
Type Educational software
License Proprietary commercial software
Website universesandbox.com

Universe Sandbox is an interactive space gravity simulator. Using Universe Sandbox, one can see the effects of gravity on objects in the universe and run scale simulations of our Solar System, various galaxies or other simulations, while at the same time, interacting and maintaining control over gravity, time, and other objects in the universe (moons, planets, asteroids, comets, black holes, etc.) Currently this software is only available for Windows-based PCs, but the developer has expressed interest in converting it to other platforms.[citation needed]

Universe Sandbox was designed and is developed by Dan Dixon, who worked on this educational project for over fifteen years before launching version 1.0 in May 2008.[1] Universe Sandbox version 2.0 was released on May 2, 2010. Version 2.1 was released on Steam on Friday April 29, 2011.

Dan worked full-time on the project since 2010, and in 2011, he founded the company Giant Army (named after the metaphor of standing on the shoulders of giants). Since then he has hired four additional developers, first Christian Herold and Georg Steinröhder in 2011, then Thomas Grønneløv and Eric Hilton in 2012.[2][3] Christian works on the architecture and UI of the program, Georg works on the graphics and Thomas works on the physics calculation methods. Eric, who is an astronomer, works on ensuring that the simulated universe is realistic.[3]

They began working on a new update by completely rewriting the program in Unity. Some of the new features include atmospheres being shown on planets, dynamic and procedurally generated textures on stars and gas giants, more realistic impact marks from collisions which fade over time, 3D charts in chart mode, simulation of stellar evolution, procedural detail in rings/particles, visualization of black holes, simulation of fluid-like objects (such as gas clouds, nebulae and protoplanetary disks, and planetary collisions in the future).[3]

The developers demonstrated many of these features at the Unite 2012 conference (for developers using the Unity game engine).[3]

The alpha board has closed and gave few alpha updates to alpha testers.[4]


This is a list of the key features of Universe Sandbox as of version 2.0:

  • Interactive n-body gravity simulator
  • Simple tutorial introduction
  • Several step-by-step activities included
  • All physical quantities are measured in real units: kilograms, meters, seconds, etc.
  • User control of the speed of time, gravity and other factors
  • Simulation files are editable
  • 3D Mode for use with red & cyan 3D glasses (anaglyph stereoscopic)
  • Support for 3D DLP HD televisions
  • Multiple color modes to help visualize and differentiate speeds and accelerations
  • Two collision modes, Bounce and Combine
  • Scaled ring systems of Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, and generate rings around bodies
  • Particle grids can be used to create 2D computer graphics or 3D computer graphics particle grids and then you warp/distort the grids and watch the gravitational effects by adding in moving planets or other objects (not in version 2)
  • "Line-up/chart" mode option shows a visual size comparison of the stars and planets
  • Includes the full sky panoramic view of the Milky Way from Axel Mellinger's photography of the Milky Way
  • Can capture high resolution screen shots


This is a list of a few limitations of Universe Sandbox:

  • The bounce collision mode is unrealistic (but this can be turned off).
  • When large bodies collide there is so much energy and heat that the bodies would melt together, but this doesn't happen.
  • Ring positions relative to planets and moons are approximated.
  • Planet axis orientation relative to the solar plane is approximated and often inaccurate.
  • Galaxy simulations do not consider dark matter or account for the galaxy rotation problem.
  • The simulation does not support dynamic change of mass, in the stars planets and comets. (It does support static change of mass)


Many simulations are included with Universe Sandbox, both realistic and fictional simulations.

  • Our Solar System which includes the 8 planets, 5 minor planets, 160+ moons, and hundreds of asteroids
  • The Andromeda & Milky Way galaxy collision which will occur in 3.8 or 4.5 billion years
  • The 100 largest bodies in our Solar System
  • The nearest 1000 stars to our Sun
  • The nearest 70 Galaxies to the Milky Way
  • A visual size comparison of the largest known stars and planets
  • The Apophis asteroid passing near Earth in the year 2029
  • The comet, Shoemaker Levy 9’s collision with Jupiter
  • The 2008 KV42, a recently discovered trans-Neptunian object with a retrograde motion orbit
  • Moons converging into a single planet
  • The Rho Cancri (55 Cancri) Solar System – which is a star with 5 known planets
  • The Pioneer & Voyager encounters with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, & Neptune
  • Visual Lagrange points of the Earth & Moon
  • Gamma Ray Burst locations

In the media[edit]

Universe Sandbox was used for several of the gravity simulations of galaxies colliding in a recent galaxy series special, “Cosmic Collisions” which first aired on January 28, 2009 on the Discovery Channel. (The second animation in this particular video was created using Universe Sandbox.[5])

Similar Applications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How one man created his own universe - How Dan Dixon fashioned a whole universe out of mere bytes". By Alex Cox. PC Plus, Issue 274 and techradar.com - computing news. 2008-10-05. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  2. ^ http://giantarmy.com/
  3. ^ a b c d http://video.unity3d.com/video/6958259/unite-2012-creating-the
  4. ^ "Welcome to the Alpha Board". by Dan Dixon. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "Cosmic Collisions". by Dan Evans. Discovery Channel. 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 

External links[edit]