Cool 3D Solar Systems

How the heck did we live before the World Wide Web? Well, for one thing there was no way to know stuff like this existed:

  • OpenUniverse – I first saw Open Universe about nine months ago and was suitably impressed by what it can do (i.e. fly you around to every planet and moon in our solar system and show you what it would look like).
  • 3D Solar System Simulator – Then I ran across a new project to do the same sort of thing in a cross platform manner using Java. The installation interface isn’t great (it could really use Java Web Start so it wouldn’t have to download everything every time it is run) and it’s not yet as feature rich as Open Universe but you can definitely see the potential.
  • Celestia – Both of those prompted me to look around and I found yet another universe simulator out there. But unlike OpenUniverse and the 3D Solar System Simulator, this one actually allows you to go outside our solar system to other stars and outside the Milky Way Galaxy. Celestia can be a little bit jerky (i.e. it can skip frames as it tries to keep up with rendering complex images) but it has more features than OpenUniverse and I think it is a little more user friendly.

Here’s a picture of Celestia showing Jupiter and the nearby moon Io in the same frame:

Now, a still picture doesn’t even begin to do this justice. Keep in mind that this is a moving 3D simulation of the planets, moons, asteroids, etc. The moon is orbiting around Jupiter, your camera can move, you can see constellations, stars, and drawn orbits. Any of these programs is a toy that you can spend hours and hours playing with if you are like me. Note: All of the programs really require you to have some kind of fairly beefy 3D card (my GeForce 256 proved adequate).