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Playing God is tricky.

March 1, 2010

Here’s an awesome piece of flash software that’s been making the rounds… it’s the simulate your own solar system kit! Brilliant isn’t it? All it takes is a couple of minutes to input the solar mass of the objects, their velocities and  initial location and you’re off! Oh and if you ever get tired of seeing your planets crashing into each other/the sun, there’s a variety of presets you can use. Here’s an example of one:

Beautiful isn’t it. A picture of harmony. Now here is my attempt at creating the same system:

It gets worse.

Can you see the green and turquoise lines wiggling their way towards the yellow circle? Yeah, that’s the route that two of the orbiting objects took before their journeys ended ignominiously as they hurtled into the sun. The big pink object survives because its mass is much larger than the other orbiting “planets” and so when the green planet passed close by, it gets knocked out of it’s previously unstable orbit only to crash into the sun. The close proximity of the green planet also works to destabalise the turquoise object, which was previously orbiting the big pink thing, so that too falls into the sun. Whoops! Making sure all the objects have stable orbits is surprisingly hard!

The interesting thing about this simulation is that as the speed increases the program is forced to cut corners in its calculations, it’s not capable of doing maths to the accuracy of as many decimal points as if I had run the program slower. If I had run the program at a slower speed (I didn’t because I wanted to see things blow up) then there’s a chance the green planet could have (temporarily) avoided its destruction because the calculations were more accurate.

You can thank the guys at the Phet Interactive Simulations group(university of Colorado) for this one. Their website also has a variety of simulations including a glacier simulation and what probably sounds a lot more amazing that it actually is: a radioactive dating simulator.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    March 1, 2010 10:06 pm


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