FAQ | Original Version
General | Using Universe Sandbox Legacy | Simulation | Download & Installation | Buy Universe Sandbox ²
If your question isn't answered here, just ask.
What is Universe Sandbox Legacy?
At its core, Universe Sandbox is a gravity simulator (that very intentionally happens to be fun and easy to use).
Check out the "what is it?" page for more info.
What is Universe Sandbox ²?
Universe Sandbox ² is a complete rewrite of the original and has been in development since fall 2011.
Purchase the Early Access version and read more.
Check out the Universe Sandbox ² FAQ.
What does it look like?
What's the difference between the free and premium versions?
The free version of Universe Sandbox lets you explore and discover any of the included simulations for as long as you want. The premium version lets you create your own simulations, add new bodies (like planets and stars), and change all the various simulation properties.
What is Universe Sandbox for?
- Learning about the universe in which we live (without realizing that you're learning).
- Exploring how gravity works, one of the four fundamental forces of our universe.
- Having fun with creation and destruction on an epic scale.
- Creating realistic imagery and movies of our universe.
- Making cool stuff to look at.
How much does it cost?
Universe Sandbox is free to use forever for viewing and exploring simulations. Buy the premium version for $9.95 USD to unlock all the features. See the Buy page for details.
How do I use it?
There's an introductory tutorial and step-by-step activities built into the program. No worries... You don't have to be a rocket scientist.
What simulations are included?
Universe Sandbox includes 70+ systems, both real and fictional.
- Includes the 8 planets of our solar system, 5 minor planets, 160+ moons, and hundreds of asteroids.
- Gamma Ray Burst locations
- Andromeda & Milky Way galaxy collision
- Shoemaker Levy 9 collision with Jupiter
- Recently discovered comet with retrograde orbit - 2008 KV42
- Rho Cancri Solar System (55 Cancri) - a star with 5 known planets
- The 100 largest bodies in our Solar System
- Comparison of the largest known stars
- Pioneer & Voyager encounters with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, & Neptune
- Lagrange points of the Earth & Moon
- Moons coalescing into a single planet
- Asteroid Apophis passing near Earth in 2029
- Nearest 1000 stars to our Sun
- Nearest 70 Galaxies to the Milky Way
What are the core features?
- Full-featured interactive n-body gravity simulator.
- Everything is measured in real units: kilograms, meters, seconds.
- 3D Mode for use with red & cyan glasses (anaglyph stereoscopic)
- Support for 3D DLP televisions
- Complete introduction and included tutorial.
- Includes 10 step-by-step activities that explain the various controls.
- Editable simulation files let you create an unlimited number of scenarios.
- Full control of the speed of time.
- Full control of gravity.
- Multiple color modes to visualize speeds and accelerations.
- Two collision modes
- Bounce: A fun, fictional mode where bodies bounce off of each other like big rubber balls.
- Combine: A more realistic mode where bodies combine into a single body when they collide.
- Rings systems
- Rings are simulated as hundreds of particles and are effected by gravity.
- Includes scale ring systems of Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.
- Generate rings around bodies with a single click.
- Particle grids
- Easily create 2D or 3D particle grids and then warp them with Jupiter- sized planets.
- Galaxy Collisions
- Watch galaxies rip each other apart.
- Full sky panoramic view of the Milky Way
- Features Axel Mellinger's amazing photographyof the Milky Way.
- Easy-to-use interface that's fully controllable with the mouse.
- Lots of additional keyboard shortcuts
- Laptop-friendly controls
- Capture high-resolution screenshots
- Combines multiple screen captures into a super high-resolution image; 50+ megapixel shots are possible.
- Tools to capture image sequences
- Easy Updates
- Automatically checks for updates so you'll always have the latest version.
What's in the latest version?
Check out What's New for a detailed breakdown.
What are all the keyboard shortcuts?
There's a complete list on the command reference page.
How do I use Universe Sandbox with 3D glasses?
- Start Universe Sandbox and open a simulation.
- Click on the ‘Show View Controls’ bar on the far left side of the window.
- Scroll down to ‘Screen Options’, if needed.
- Check the 3D checkbox to enable 3D mode.
Note: The 3D Mode should be set to Anaglyph (and not Cross Eye or DLP).
- Close the View Controls if you like.
- Put on your 3D glasses making sure that your left eye is looking through the red lens.
- Allow your eyes to relax. It can take a few minutes to get accustomed to the effect.
- Optional step: Change the Color Mode to Monochrome. (This can make the 3D easier to see.)
How do I switch to full screen?
- Press Alt-Enter
- Click the 'Switch to Full Screen' button in Settings.
How do I zoom when I don't have a mouse wheel?
(I have a laptop)
- Use the keys W & S to zoom in and out.
- If you have problems with zooming, try turning off scroll wheel support in Options from the main menu.
How do I easily reload a simulation?
- Press Ctrl+R to reload/restart your current simulation.
Why does Mercury get thrown out of the Solar System when I turn up the time step?
- As you turn up the time step you lower the accuracy of the simulation. If the accuracy is too low, bodies will get thrown out of the system.
- The numbers: Mercury takes about 88 days to make a single orbit around the sun. A time step of 22 days would only be calculating a new position for Mercury 4 times in that period. This isn't enough accuracy to maintain a stable orbit. The Earth is further out and takes 365 days to orbit the sun. This same time step of 22 days results in about 16 position calculations for the Earth which is enough to maintain an orbit.
Why don't you include any moons in the system 'Our Solar System'?
- Since some moons make full orbits of their respective planets in less than 1 day, the maximum speed (or time step) that you can run the system is much lower than without them. (See the question above for more info on time steps.)
- Load the system 'Our Solar System - all known moons' to see all the 160+ moons in our Solar System.
I made a black hole but everything just got flung into space. Why didn't they get sucked in?
- Your time step is too high for a body with such a large mass.
- Press the A key or the numpad Enter key to turn on auto time step before you create the black hole.
- Auto time step adjusts the time step to maintain a reasonably accurate simulation.
Is there any difference between a black hole and any other body in Universe Sandbox?
- No. For the purposes of the simulation, a 'preset' black hole in Universe Sandbox is equal in mass to 100 of our Suns. Real black holes can be larger or smaller than this.
What's the math behind all of this?
- It's Newton's law of universal gravitation using either a semi-implicit Euler or Runge-Kutta 4 integration, which is much more accurate, but runs a bit slower. To toggle between these two modes in the software:
- Click on Show Options (the gear icon)
- Under Simulation Options, Accuracy Mode, click "Normal" or "Accurate"
How accurate is Universe Sandbox?
Solar System-sized simulations at a small time step (~2 minutes/second) are very accurate.
Galaxy sized simulations are only representative and not very accurate. Universe Sandbox doesn't take dark matter into account, which doesn't have much of an observable effect on our solar system but noticeably affects galaxies. Nor does Universe Sandbox consider Einstein's theory of general relativity as the basis of any of its calculations.
Where did you get your data?
Data used in Universe Sandbox was collected from a variety of sources:
JPL's Horizon System - Planet, moon, and asteroid starting positions & velocities
Star Positions & Velocities - David Nash
Star Color Values- Mitchell Charity
Atlas of the Universe - Richard Powell
Download & Installation
How do I Install Universe Sandbox?
- Click on the install button to download the file 'universe-sandbox-setup.exe'.
- Run the 'universe-sandbox-setup.exe' installer.
- Follow the simple steps in the Setup Wizard to complete the installation.
- Once installed, Universe Sandbox will automatically run.
How do I run Universe Sandbox?
- Universe Sandbox will run automatically after installation.
- After it's installed, find it in your Start Menu and on your desktop.
- If you're running Windows 7 you can pin it to your taskbar.
How do I get updates?
- Every time you run Universe Sandbox it will check for updates. If an update is found it will ask if you want to get it. You'll always have the latest version.
Why is it trying to connect to the internet?
- When you run Universe Sandbox it connects to update.universesandbox.com to check for updates (which forwards to s3.amazonaws.com where the installation files are hosted).
I give you my word it's not doing anything malicious.
How do I uninstall Universe Sandbox?
- Click on the Windows Start button.
- Open the Control Panel.
- Open Add or Remove Programs.
- Select Universe Sandbox in the list and then click the Remove button.
Universe Sandbox crashes when I try to run it.
How do I fix this?
- Try downloading and installing .NET 3.5 and DirectX. This will often fix the problem.
- If it is still crashing, see this troubleshooting guide for other solutions.
- Still having an issue? Please contact us.
Can I distribute Universe Sandbox?
- Since updates are released frequently, it would be best if you didn't. Please just link people to this website so that people will always be downloading the latest version available.
- If you insist on distributing this application you must use one of the unaltered setup files available from this website. You are not allowed to repackage the program.
Will this work on a Mac?
- Universe Sandbox will run on Macs in a virtual environment (like Parallels Desktop).
Version 2008 Info
Can I download Universe Sandbox (2008)?
- Install the old version of
Universe Sandbox (2008 version)
Using Microsoft's ClickOnce Installer
Where is Universe Sandbox (2008) installed?
- On XP: %userprofile%\Local Settings\Apps
(e.g. C:\Documents & Settings\Dan\Local Settings\Apps)
- On VISTA: %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Apps
When I try to update to the latest version I get this error: "Access to the path '1.0.???.?\dxdx9_31.dll' is denied.
- This error occurs under Vista when you try to update.
- You need to run Universe Sandbox with administrative privileges for updates to complete successfully.
How much does Universe Sandbox cost?
Individuals, Teachers, Schools, & Non-Profits
- A single product key for Universe Sandbox is $9.95 USD.
- We no longer offer educational pricing for Universe Sandbox Legacy. Purchase Universe Sandbox ², the latest version, at a discount through TeacherGaming.
Commercial & For-Profit
- A special license is required for using images or video created with Universe Sandbox. Please contact sales to inquire about a commercial license.
Do I need a special license to use screenshots and video generated with Universe Sandbox for commercial purposes?
- Yes. Please contact sales to inquire about a commercial license.
- Using video or images for non-commercial or educational use is encouraged and doesn't require a license. Please credit Universe Sandbox and include a link back to universesandbox.com.
What happens when the trial is over?
- Universe Sandbox reverts to the free-forever system viewer.
- You can continue to open and view systems, but you can no longer interact with them.
- You'll no longer be able to control gravity, add new bodies, or change properties.
- Just buy a product key to restore all the interactive features.
Universe Sandbox ²
What is Universe Sandbox ² ?
Universe Sandbox ² is the sequel to the original Universe Sandbox.