While Elite Dangerous does a good job of simulating
a Galaxy, Space Engine renders the Universe! It’s truly breathtaking and, more importantly,
completely free. Check out the link in the description of this video.
I’ll give a brief tutorial on how to navigate the Universe later on, but first, here are
5 things that I’ve learned from this program. 1) Giant stars look different to what you
might imagine. I’ve always pictured the supergiants to be larger versions of the sun but the reality
is that they’re a large, bubbling frothing mess, bit like the explosion at the end of
Half Life 2, or a red-hot version of a turd you have when you haven’t drunk enough water.
2) Stars are HUGE. Land on Betelgeuse and start to accelerate. Notice how fast you have
to be moving before the distant bumps and crevasses even begin to move. Even the speed
of light feels like a snail’s pace across the surface of these giants. And yes, I know
the entire world says it’s pronounced Beetle Juice but I refuse to accept it.
3) Space is HUGE. I’m not stupid. I knew it was. I knew the facts and figures and have
heard the comparisons between grains of sand and big things. But nothing can prepare you
for travelling across space. As you move up the scale from planet to star to galaxy to
Universe, there’s a lot of lonely, empty space. Some speeds are completely pointless, with
some things zipping past way too quickly and others seemingly static in the distance. Take
a tour around the Universe to put this all into perspective. But it’s not just the sheer
amount of empty space that’s impressive. Just you wait until you see millions of galaxies
flying past you. With so many other trillions of planets, how could we be the only life
in the Universe? 4) The speed of light makes things fun. I
travelled to the out-most galaxies, expecting them to be young and developing because that’s
how they appear from Earth, as well as more mysterious because, well, they’re further
away. But of course, it’s not like that. They only look young because the speed of light
shows us earlier versions of themselves. In reality, travelling to the distant corners
of the Universe doesn’t guarantee you anything more exciting than the next star system along.
5) Our day-night cycle is rather boring in comparison to some planets. Especially when
there are two suns, or when the planet has an odd rotation. Check these out!
In conclusion, my life had been missing something until I discovered this program. I demand
that we let children explore the Universe for an hour a week in schools, as it will
teach them more than any written essay or TV program ever could.
Now it’s your chance to explore the Universe! Here are some little pointers to get you started.
Use the mouse and WASD to navigate. You can change your speed by holding down the + and
– buttons. You can cheat by holding CTRL while doing so to change it faster. Speed up and
slow down time with L and K. To travel to a far off planet, right-click
on it then double-tap G. To go to a particular place, press F3 to open up the search tool.
And yes, it includes Earth and all of the stars you can see in the night sky, as well
as billions of others that are procedurally generated, some of which contain life. Who
knows what you’ll discover?