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 new version UniverseSandbox² will launch on multiple platforms. Initially those are Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Universe Sandbox was designed and 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 six additional developers; first Christian Herold and Georg Steinröhder in 2011, then Thomas Grønneløv and Eric Hilton in 2012. Naomi Goldenson joined in 2013 and Chad Jenkins in 2014.[2][3] Christian works on the architecture and user interface, Georg works on the graphics, Thomas works on implementing physics and mathematics libraries and Eric, who is an astronomer, works on ensuring that the simulated universe is plausible. Naomi implements climate modelling and Chad tackles planetary material composition.


As of 2014, the developers are working on a new version of Universe Sandbox, which will be a complete rewrite. Some of the new features include atmospheres being shown on planets, dynamic and procedurally generated textures on stars and gas giants, more realistic and graphic collision system, 3D charts in chart mode, simulation of stellar evolution, procedural detail in rings/particles, visualization of black holes, tethers to build space elevators, simulation of fluid-like objects (such as gas clouds, nebulae and protoplanetary disks and planetary collisions) and much more.[3]

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

The release date of UniverseSandbox² is currently planned for 2014, but late August 2014 the public alpha version was released for purchase by the public, after having been in closed alpha testing for several months. Purchase of the alpha will give access to the final version as well as continuous updates. See more at UniverseSandbox²

There has been confusion about the version numbering, since there are a previous version 1 and 2, and the new version is not 3, but instead ², as in "power of two". It is therefore Universe Sandbox² and not 2 or 3.


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 prior to Universe Sandbox² in which they have all been addressed.

  • 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.[4])

Similar Applications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alex Cox (2008-10-05). "How one man created his own universe - How Dan Dixon fashioned a whole universe out of mere bytes". PC Plus, Issue 274 and techradar.com - computing news. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  2. ^ "we make Universe Sandbox". Giant Army. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  3. ^ a b c [1][dead link]
  4. ^ Dan Evans (2009). "Cosmic Collisions". Discovery Channel. Retrieved 2010-01-10 – via Vimeo. 

External links[edit]