Orbitrunner is a little fun game where you control a star freely, attempting to create a stable planetary system – without letting any of the planets go outside the boundaries or collide with any of the other bodies, including their own tiny satellites!
The game quickly teaches intuitive concepts related to gravitation, and you soon discover in practice what is a gravitational slingshot, elliptic orbits plus some more things.
It may look simple at first, but as you advance in the levels of the game you soon realize that stable planetary systems with many bodies are not that easy to create. Then, keep in mind that this game – in just two dimensions and with a simulated gravity acting instantly at a distance – is a very simplified version of the real Universe around us.
The casual encounter of celestial bodies creating a planetary system was considered seriously by astronomers as a plausible hypothesis for the creation of our own solar system until not long ago, and now you may better understand why those who considered this idea also assumed that planetary systems were probably extremely rare in the Universe.
In recent years, with the discovery of hundreds of extra-solar planets, scientists now believe that most of the stars we see in the sky may have planets orbiting nicely around them, which must have been formed very differently from this game, “condensed” naturally and gradually from nebulas along the star.
Not that catastrophic collisions are entirely dismissed by astronomers, much on the contrary. Current theories for the origin of our own Moon, for instance, suggest that it was the result of the shock with our planet with a gigantic protoplanet, which ejected great amounts of matter from our planet’s core to the space, forming our unusually big satellite.
In its extreme version, and much like this web game, though, were the theories of one Immanuel Velikovsky. According to him, not only did the planets dance and collide around everywhere in our solar system, but these events occurred very recently, accounting for many biblical stories.
The odds that Velikovsky was right? Let a monkey play Orbitrunner and see if it hits a top score. Or read some good old Stephen Jay Gould writing about the Russian guy.
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