Theory Play Share & Discuss

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Teach Astrophysical Phenomena
with Universe Sandbox ²

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The Universe

Get to know the universe simulator Universe Sandbox 2! This program allows you to observe detailed simulations of celestial bodies in space.

Teacher Resources

This lesson is meant as an introduction to Universe Sandbox 2. This program may look like a video game, but in reality it is a simulator, which allows your students to learn about astronomy in a very hands-on and interactive way. Unlike in conventional video games, there are no clear goals or objectives unless if you set them for the students.

  • Theory: This lesson familiarizes your students with Universe Sandbox 2.
  • Play: The students complete the game’s tutorials.
  • Share & Discuss: These topics introduce the core concepts of astronomy to the students which are covered in more detail in the following lessons.


  • The science of celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole
  • Split into two branches (during the 20th century): observational and theoretical
  • Astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can make significant contributions (for example, discovering new comets)
  • Not to be confused with astrology, a pseudoscience that holds that celestial bodies influence our lives indirectly

Wikimedia Commons: Earthrise over Compton crater

Teacher Resources

Preface: Universe Sandbox ²

  • Today we will get to play Universe Sandbox 2, a large-scale space simulator.
  • This simulator allows you to create your own galaxies, solar systems and planets, and tweak their values (such as mass and size).
  • First we will learn the basics of the simulator with its tutorials.


Teacher Resources

This lesson focuses on learning the basics of Universe Sandbox 2: the subsequent lessons focus on the theory and astronomical concepts. In practice this means that the students will play through the tutorials of the simulator during this lesson and, should they have time left, experiment with the program. The next slides show how to access the tutorials.


Lesson Goal

Play through all the tutorials of

Universe Sandbox 2.

Show Notes

The game automatically makes you play the tutorials when you launch it the first time. However, if you wish to replay them, simply press ESC in the main menu and select Tutorials. Then select the tutorial you wish to play.

If you manage to do so, you can experiment with your own universe.
Try out the features of the simulator: make your own galaxy! Explode planets! Change the values of celestial bodies!

How to Play

As you launch the game, you can immediately start playing with the Solar System.

Gameplay screenshot

To access other simulations at any time, press Esc. Then, select Open to load any of the simulations included in the game.

Gameplay screenshot

After you've clicked Open, click on any of the simulations to load them.

Gameplay screenshot

Share & Discuss

Share & Discuss

Individual amateurs can make significant contributions to astronomy. Why?

Show Notes

The reason for this is because observational astronomy can benefit from amateur observations, especially with transient phenomena. Amateur astronomers can look into the sky with a telescope and occasionally discover unknown celestial bodies.

Did anyone try hurling two stars against one another? What happens if you do so?

Show Notes

If the two stars are large enough and collide directly, they will create a supernova. If they are not large enough, they may merge or just steal gases from one another and remain separate entities. Other phenomena are also possible, depending on the size and the type of the stars.

Tasks after Playing

Define what astronomy means. What two primary branches of astronomy exist today?

Show Notes

It’s a good idea to let the students know that this question is a bit of an oversimplification. There are more subdivisions than just these two branches, but it’s not necessary to learn them all right now (the Wikipedia article provides a handy list for those interested).

What is special about the rotation of the moon in relation to the Earth?

Show Notes

(tutorial 11: Tidal Forces provides the answer) the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth when the Moon rotates around it. This means that the Moon is tidally locked.

What is a pulsar?

Show Notes

(tutorial 5: Creating Pulsars provides the answer) definition: one of several hundred known celestial objects, generally believed to be rapidly rotating neutron stars, that emit pulses of radiation, especially radio waves, with a high degree of regularity. The important aspects are the I) rapid rotation II) that they emit radiation with a high frequency III) the fact they are neutron stars.