Free space simulator lets you tour the universe from home

free space simulator lets you tour the universe from home spaceengine

Let’s say you’re sitting at home one night, flipping through the channels. You can’t find anything interesting on the TV, so you go for a stroll around the block just to kill some time. While walking you happen to look up at the sky and notice a sea of stars. Instantly struck by the majesty of the universe you decide, right then and there, to explore the great beyond. Unfortunately for your nascent plan it costs billions of dollars to mount an expedition into space, and our current technology is really only capable of taking human beings as far as the moon. In space terms, that’s an utterly minute distance. You won’t start seeing the really cool stuff space has to offer until you get a few hundred million miles away from Earth. Fortunately for anyone whose dreams were crushed by this paragraph, you can now tour the universe and get an up close and personal view of asteroids, dwarf stars and galaxies from the comfort of your living room. 

SpaceEngine’s official website describes the program as “a free space simulation software that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, starting from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies.” Controls for SpaceEngine are essentially identical to the standard WASD scheme seen in the vast majority of first-person shooters, so new users should find the program immediately accessible, which is quite helpful given its massive scope. According to the SpaceEngine feature list, it uses NASA-sourced astronomical data to generate an accurate recreation of our own galaxy, with everything beyond our galaxy generated procedurally. Though this makes the outer reaches of the universe somewhat randomized, the program’s creators boast that it includes “all types of celestial objects,” including “planets, moons, asteroids, stars, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies.”

If just cruising around space at will isn’t quite realistic enough for you, SpaceEngine also offers “Spaceship” and “Airplane” modes that burden users with realistic inertia effects as they travel the void. Granted, they aren’t exact simulations of space travel — SpaceEngine was obviously created with user-friendliness as its primary goal — but they do add a sense of authenticity to the software. Of course, if battling physics while trying to visit Saturn isn’t your cup of tea, you can always just set the game to autopilot by typing in the name of the celestial body you want to see, then relaxing as the game zooms you straight there.

Aesthetically SpaceEngine is surprisingly gorgeous, given its $0 price tag. Planets feature 3D landscape modelling (based on astronomical data for known planets, procedurally generated for any others), stars generate lens flare and light-absorbing clouds of dust obscure your view. As SpaceEngine is clearly aimed at a civilian audience its graphics are closer to that seen in high-end space-based video games like EVE Online than actual NASA simulations, but for everyone other than incredibly pedantic space geeks that’s part of its appeal.

Unfortunately SpaceEngine is only available for Windows, so Mac and Linux users wanting to explore the Milky Way are out of luck. There’s no word on whether the developers plan to create ports of the program for these operating systems, but we’ve got our fingers crossed.

Update: PC World is also pretty keen on this software and pointed out the below video of SpaceEngine in action. You can’t really get a feel for the game’s aesthetics without seeing it in motion, so have a look and see what you think.

Gaming

Ditch the meditation app. 'Katamari Damacy Reroll' is pure gaming zen

Katamari Damacy Reroll brings the magic of the PS2 classic to Nintendo Switch and PC. With updated visuals and the same great, singular loop, Reroll stands the test of time. Katamari Damacy is the ultimate relaxation game.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in every genre for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Wearables

Our favorite fitness trackers make it fun to keep moving

Looking for your first fitness tracker, or an upgrade to the one you're already wearing? There are plenty of the wrist-worn gadgets available. Here are our picks for the best fitness trackers available right now.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

There’s a new lab-grown meat startup on the block — and it has a secret weapon

Aleph Farms is developing lab-grown steaks with the same flavor, shape, texture, and structure as the real thing using beef cells isolated from living cows. Coming soon to a store near you?
Smart Home

This A.I.-enabled tech brings cutting-edge automation to grocery stores

Takeoff Technologies is working to make grocery deliveries fast, accurate, and convenient using A.I.-enabled technology to augment robotic grocery orders that can be completed in minutes.
Product Review

This was 3D printed? With the Anycubic Photon, you can't tell

Never mind the fact that the Anycubic Photon 3D printer only costs 500 bucks. In terms of sheer print quality, this printer is on the same level as machines that cost six times as much.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers of 2018

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

Postmates’ to roll out Minion-like autonomous delivery robots in 2019

Postmates is about to employ a cute little robot to work alongside its human delivery personnel. Called Serve, the wheel-based bot can carry items weighing up to 50 pounds and has a range of 30 miles.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.