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The Video Game That Maps the Galaxy

The Video Game That Maps the Galaxy The New Yorker


Van Leeuwen believes that it’s in the disparity between real-world observations and computer simulations of space where advances are most readily made. “Astronomy is a field where you find a continuous exchange between new observations and modelling,” he said. “The conflicts that show up are generally due to simplifications made in the models, for which new observations can provide improved guidelines. There’s a continuously evolving and developing understanding of space, in which both models and observations play important roles.”

Elite: Dangerous has thrown up a number of conflicts between its model of the Milky Way and previous astronomical assumptions. “Our night sky is based on real data—it is not a hand-drawn backdrop as you might expect,” Braben said. “But the Milky Way and many of the stars around it are simply too bright and too uniform when compared to the real observable night sky.” Braben knew that the Milky Way appears somewhat dim when viewed from Earth because of obscuring space dust, but he was surprised by the quantity of dust and absorbent matter that the team needed to add to the game world in order to match the real-world perspective. “It appears as though our planet actually sits within that dust cloud, which is why the Milky Way appears so faint,” he said.

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I never thought of our planet sitting on a dust cloud before. 

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