Theory Play Share & Discuss

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Teach Birth of the Universe
with Universe Sandbox ²

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Birth of the Universe

How did the universe come to be? How are planets formed? Why does space still keep expanding?

Teacher Resources

  • Theory: This lesson takes a look at the formation of planetary bodies and the Big Bang.
  • Play: Students create their own star systems in Universe Sandbox 2.
  • Share & Discuss: These tasks focus on the formation of the universe and planets and the difficulty of observing such phenomena.

Birth of the Universe: A Closer Look

  • The prevailing theory on the birth of the universe remains the Big Bang Theory,
  • Belgian astronomer and cosmologist George Lemaître (1894-1966) ‘formulated the modern big-bang theory, which holds that the universe began in a cataclysmic explosion of a small, primeval “super-atom.”’ (source)
  • Though on a very solid theoretical footing, the theory remains a theory because replicating the birth of universe in a controlled environment in a smaller scale is impossible with current science. Additionally, as this very specific event presumably only happened once, it cannot be observed in nature either.
  • Planets were formed from dust and gas over millions of years, slowly becoming greater masses due to gravitational pull.

A dark planet.

Teacher Resources


Lesson Challenge 1

  1. The goal is to create a realistic simulation of the birth of a star system. The goal is to create planets over a long period.
  2. Start by selecting new empty simulation.
  3. Place a star (the Sun or equivalent is just fine).
  4. Add asteroid belts to the Sun. Be careful, too many asteroids will slow down the simulation. Too few, and the simulation will not be realistic.
  5. Max out speed. What happens?


Show Notes

IMPORTANT NOTE: The students are almost definitely going to fail this assignment because of the limitations of Universe Sandbox 2. Due to the nature of the simulator, it is not efficient enough to simulate the millions of years needed to create planets. Make sure to let the students know at the conclusion of this activity that the problem is in the program, and not them or their skills.

Lesson Challenge 2

  1. Build your own star system, this time by using ready-to-go planets, star(s) and moons.
  2. Start by opening a new empty simulation.
  3. Place a star to act as the Sun of the system (this can literally be the Sun).
  4. Place planets to orbit the star.
  5. Add Earth to the system. Make sure that Earth is habitable (chance of life very high). You may need to remove and add Earth again multiple times before you find the right spot.

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

  • Did you have any problems creating your own star systems? What kind of problems were there?
  • What kind of universe did you create? Did you name any of the planets that you placed?
  • Did you manage to sustain life on a planet?

Tasks after Playing

Universe Sandbox 2 can have difficulty simulating the formation of entire star systems let alone the birth of the universe. Why?

Show Notes

The game contains no simulation of the Big Bang: it is simply not an option. When it comes to star systems, the game can certainly simulate the merging of celestial masses (that could and would eventually become planetary bodies), but it lacks the capability to run the simulator at such a high speed to quickly simulate the millions of years required for planets to form.

Why does the universe continue to expand? You can look up for sources online to answer this question.

Show Notes

The current consensus holds that “dark energy” is the culprit for the accelerating expansion of the universe, unaffected by gravity and forever keeping on expanding. This phenomenon is not completely understood due to the vast size of the universe and the difficulty of observing dark energy.

Why aren’t new planets formed in the Solar System any more? What would need to happen for new planets to form?

Show Notes

The existing planets are simply too large to allow the formation of new planets. If new planets were to form, it would require the destruction of existing planetary bodies with sufficiently large force (such as a massive asteroid).