Universe Sandbox: Smash galaxies together for fun

July 4, 2008

If you hit up the youtube page for the video, I’ve annotated it for better detail.

BLASTING FROM THE FIREWORKS — Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy recently linked to this excellent piece of software and I’ve just been having a ball with it. The program is called Universe Sandbox and it allows you to manipulate and play with planetary objects. By toying with gravity, time, and the mass/density/velocity of objects, the program can create a multitude of situations teaching users about planetary motion.

Developed by Dan Dixon, Universe Sandbox does a great job of making high school physics fun and interesting. There are so many settings and variables that you can mess with that the game will keep you occupied for several hours. It comes with several pre-made systems ranging from simple moon-planetary orbits to full-sized galaxy collisions. Currently you cannot create your own system files in the program, however they are just XML files so you can write your own if you want to do a little coding (it’s pretty simple if you just look at the other examples).

The game can be a little buggy at times, but it’s understandable for a first release. Also, some of the physics can go wacky if you mess with odd situations (black holes, for instance). Your computer might also take a beating if you set some of the variables too high or have to many objects on the screen at any one time. However, the game looks great and is really easy on the eyes. Multiple color schemes give the game a wonderful look as well as wonderful textures for the planets and objects.

Overall, I recommend you take a look at the game. It’s free to download and all Dixon asks is that if you want to pay, give as much or little as you want. And if you pay at least $25 you get spiffy 3D glasses which allow you to use the stereoscopic setting in the game to see 3D images. I highly recommend you check this one out — at least until Spore comes out.

Fireworks and a ‘history’ lesson

July 4, 2008

FROM JASON’S TIME CARD — You know what’s cool? I got to “cover” my city’s annual fireworks display last night. It was a fluff assignment, and a welcome break from shootings, stabbings, and fiery deaths I’ve been handling lately.

Even better: While I was hanging out with my photographer near the fireworks launch site, I overheard the following (and very edutaining) conversation:

“Grandpa, why do we have fireworks?” asked a sandy-haired young boy who looked about 8 or 9 years old.

Grandpa never batted an eye. There was no ironic smile. Completely convinced of his historical accuracy, Grandpa learnedly replied, “Because in 1774, the British gave American independence and they celebrated with fireworks.”

Hail, the American public education system.