Vladimir Romanyuk‘s incredible SpaceEngine is a simulation of the entire observable universe, with the goal being “scientific realism”, and to reproduce every known type of astronomical phenomenon.
It uses up-to-date data on real interstellar objects (from the Hipparcos Catalogue for stars, and the NGC and IC catalogues for galaxies), all of which can be visited and explored using the simple controls and the Heads-Up Display (the HUD, which also displays detailed properties of any object that is selected, such as mass, temperature, radius, et cetera); it uses procedural generation to fill in the gaps, and describe places we don’t yet know; and it also includes a complex space exploration element for creating relatively realistic spacecraft to travel around in. Be warned, though: SpaceEngine is not Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky, or any other kind of fictional space opera – this is serious, hardcore, realistic stuff. You do not go around blasting lasers at Thargoids in this…
That said: anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy, physics, or science should have a look at SpaceEngine. It’s not perfect (and is improving all the time), but it is pretty damn astounding – the level of detail, variety and beauty in the game is jaw-dropping. Just like the real universe…
The first public release of SpaceEngine was in 2010, and it has been free to download and use since then. Only recently (June 2019), with the release of version 0.990 on Steam, has SpaceEngine become a paid-for program. And at a mere £20 it’s a worthwhile investment if you’re fascinated by the cosmos and science – as everyone should be!
More about SpaceEngine:
The software has its own built-in database which gives detailed information on all celestial objects and allows the player to create custom names and descriptions for them.
SpaceEngine has a locations database where players can save any position and time within the simulation, and can load it from that specific point.
Although objects that form part of a planetary system move, and stars rotate about their axes and orbit each other in multiple star systems, stellar “proper motion” is not simulated, and galaxies are at fixed locations and do not rotate.
Most real-world spacecraft such as Voyager 2 are not provided with SpaceEngine.
Interstellar light absorption is not modelled in SpaceEngine.
SpaceEngine is easily modifiable and supports a large variety of add-ons. The online community has created many third-party add-ons, including high-resolution textures, language localisations, spacecraft models, edited shaders, galaxy models, lens flare effects, and fictional planetary systems. Most add-ons are available via the official website forums.
In SpaceEngine‘s “beta spaceship mode”, the program simulates inertia, realistic gravity wells, and atmospheric dynamics.
Although faster-than-light travel is not currently possible, SpaceEngine implements a feasible warp drive based on the Alcubierre drive.
Relativistic effects on the speed of light are simulated, in areas such as redshifted galaxies, the gravitational redshift exerted by black holes, and the theoretical redshift produced by the above-mentioned warp drive.