(Coded during a 2010 summer night... updated with Runge-Kutta solver during Xmas 2012 weekend... Reddit-ed)

I've always been fascinated by space - ever since I read "The Family of the Sun", when I was young. And I always wanted to simulate what I've read about Newton's law of gravity, and see what happens in... a universe of my own making... :‑)

First with 30 planets, then with just one (to show stable orbit, thanks to RK4)
So eventually, I sat down and did it. The following code "sprays" planets randomly, inside a 900x600 window (the values are in the code, change them at will). It then proceeds to apply the following: My original version used Euler integration - i.e. assuming a unit time step...
        self._x += self._vx
        self._y += self._vy
        self._vx += self._ax
        self._vy += self._ay
...it just applied a crude form of Euler's method in updating position and velocity. I always meant to update the code with a more stable solution... and I finally found some time to hack it, during the Xmas 2012 weekend: the code now uses the RK4 solution of the velocity / acceleration differential equation. I based the patch on the excellent work of Glenn Fiedler (definitely worth checking out, if you like this sort of thing).

And now... I can observe stable orbits - and have long-term fun watching chaotic solar systems calm down into peaceful ones like our own :‑)

Download / usage

If you use Windows, download a pre-compiled version from here, and run with gravityRK4.exe 20 (20 is the number of planets - change it to as many as you want). Otherwise, the Python code (less than 300 commented lines) is here. After downloading, make sure you have pygame installed (sudo apt-get install python-pygame or whatever your distro/environment needs) and then, just...
bash$ ./gravityRK4.py 20
...to run a simulation with 20 planets. Change this number up to whatever number your machine can handle (think of it as a benchmark :‑)

You can also use the numeric keypad's +/- to zoom in/out, and press SPACE to toggle showing/hiding the orbits trace.


(More of my "semi-scientific" models of natural processes can be found here.)

#!/usr/bin/env python
An improved version of my Python-based gravity simulator, using Runge-Kutta
4th order solution of the differential equations - coded during Xmas 2012.
Happy holidays, everyone!

I've always been fascinated by space - ever since I read 'The Family of
the Sun', when I was young. And I always wanted to simulate what I've read
about Newton's gravity law, and see what happens in... a universe of my own
making :-)

So: The following code 'sprays' some 'planets' randomly, around a sun,
inside a 900x600 window (the values are below, change them at will).
Afterwards, it applies a very simple set of laws:

- Gravity, inversely proportional to the square of the distance, and linearly
  proportional to the product of the two masses
- Elastic collissions of two objects if they are close enough to touch: a
  merged object is then created, that maintains the momentum (mass*velocity)
  and the mass of the two merged ones.
- This updated version of the code is using the RK4 solution of the velocity/
  acceleration differential equation, and is in fact based on the excellent
  blog of Glenn Fiedler (http://gafferongames.com)

Use the numeric keypad's +/- to zoom in/out, and press SPACE to toggle
showing/hiding the orbits trace.

Blog post at:


Thanassis Tsiodras

import sys
import math
import pygame
import random
from collections import defaultdict

# The window size
WIDTH, HEIGHT = 900, 600

# The number of simulated planets

# The density of the planets - used to calculate their mass
# from their volume (i.e. via their radius)
DENSITY = 0.001

# The gravity coefficient - it's my universe, I can pick whatever I want :-)

# The global list of planets
g_listOfPlanets = []

class State:
    """Class representing position and velocity."""
    def __init__(self, x, y, vx, vy):
        self._x, self._y, self._vx, self._vy = x, y, vx, vy

    def __repr__(self):
        return 'x:{x} y:{y} vx:{vx} vy:{vy}'.format(
            x=self._x, y=self._y, vx=self._vx, vy=self._vy)

class Derivative:
    """Class representing velocity and acceleration."""
    def __init__(self, dx, dy, dvx, dvy):
        self._dx, self._dy, self._dvx, self._dvy = dx, dy, dvx, dvy

    def __repr__(self):
        return 'dx:{dx} dy:{dy} dvx:{dvx} dvy:{dvy}'.format(
            dx=self._dx, dy=self._dy, dvx=self._dvx, dvy=self._dvy)

class Planet:
    """Class representing a planet. The "_st" member is an instance of "State",
    carrying the planet's position and velocity - while the "_m" and "_r"
    members represents the planet's mass and radius."""
    def __init__(self):
        if PLANETS == 1:
            # A nice example of a planet orbiting around our sun :-)
            self._st = State(150, 300, 0, 2)
            # otherwise pick a random position and velocity
            self._st = State(
               float(random.randint(0, WIDTH)),
               float(random.randint(0, HEIGHT)),
               float(random.randint(0, 300)/100.)-1.5,
               float(random.randint(0, 300)/100.)-1.5)
        self._r = 1.5
        self._merged = False

    def __repr__(self):
        return repr(self._st)

    def acceleration(self, state, unused_t):
        """Calculate acceleration caused by other planets on this one."""
        ax = 0.0
        ay = 0.0
        for p in g_listOfPlanets:
            if p is self or p._merged:
                continue  # ignore ourselves and merged planets
            dx = p._st._x - state._x
            dy = p._st._y - state._y
            dsq = dx*dx + dy*dy  # distance squared
            dr = math.sqrt(dsq)  # distance
            force = GRAVITYSTRENGTH*self._m*p._m/dsq if dsq>1e-10 else 0.
            # Accumulate acceleration...
            ax += force*dx/dr
            ay += force*dy/dr
        return (ax, ay)

    def initialDerivative(self, state, t):
        """Part of Runge-Kutta method."""
        ax, ay = self.acceleration(state, t)
        return Derivative(state._vx, state._vy, ax, ay)

    def nextDerivative(self, initialState, derivative, t, dt):
        """Part of Runge-Kutta method."""
        state = State(0., 0., 0., 0.)
        state._x = initialState._x + derivative._dx*dt
        state._y = initialState._y + derivative._dy*dt
        state._vx = initialState._vx + derivative._dvx*dt
        state._vy = initialState._vy + derivative._dvy*dt
        ax, ay = self.acceleration(state, t+dt)
        return Derivative(state._vx, state._vy, ax, ay)

    def updatePlanet(self, t, dt):
        """Runge-Kutta 4th order solution to update planet's pos/vel."""
        a = self.initialDerivative(self._st, t)
        b = self.nextDerivative(self._st, a, t, dt*0.5)
        c = self.nextDerivative(self._st, b, t, dt*0.5)
        d = self.nextDerivative(self._st, c, t, dt)
        dxdt = 1.0/6.0 * (a._dx + 2.0*(b._dx + c._dx) + d._dx)
        dydt = 1.0/6.0 * (a._dy + 2.0*(b._dy + c._dy) + d._dy)
        dvxdt = 1.0/6.0 * (a._dvx + 2.0*(b._dvx + c._dvx) + d._dvx)
        dvydt = 1.0/6.0 * (a._dvy + 2.0*(b._dvy + c._dvy) + d._dvy)
        self._st._x += dxdt*dt
        self._st._y += dydt*dt
        self._st._vx += dvxdt*dt
        self._st._vy += dvydt*dt

    def setMassFromRadius(self):
        """From _r, set _m: The volume is (4/3)*Pi*(r^3)..."""
        self._m = DENSITY*4.*math.pi*(self._r**3.)/3.

    def setRadiusFromMass(self):
        """Reversing the setMassFromRadius formula, to calculate radius from
        mass (used after merging of two planets - mass is added, and new
        radius is calculated from this)"""
        self._r = (3.*self._m/(DENSITY*4.*math.pi))**(0.3333)

def main():
    win=pygame.display.set_mode((WIDTH, HEIGHT))

    keysPressed = defaultdict(bool)

    def ScanKeyboard():
        while True:
            # Update the keysPressed state:
            evt = pygame.event.poll()
            if evt.type == pygame.NOEVENT:
            elif evt.type in [pygame.KEYDOWN, pygame.KEYUP]:
                keysPressed[evt.key] = evt.type == pygame.KEYDOWN

    global g_listOfPlanets, PLANETS
    if len(sys.argv) == 2:
        PLANETS = int(sys.argv[1])

    # And God said: Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens...
    g_listOfPlanets = []
    for i in xrange(0, PLANETS):

    def planetsTouch(p1, p2):
        dx = p1._st._x - p2._st._x
        dy = p1._st._y - p2._st._y
        dsq = dx*dx + dy*dy
        dr = math.sqrt(dsq)
        return dr<=(p1._r + p2._r)

    sun = Planet()
    sun._st._x, sun._st._y = WIDTHD2, HEIGHTD2
    sun._st._vx = sun._st._vy = 0.
    sun._m *= 1000
    for p in g_listOfPlanets:
        if p is sun:
        if planetsTouch(p, sun):
            p._merged = True  # ignore planets inside the sun

    # Zoom factor, changed at runtime via the '+' and '-' numeric keypad keys
    zoom = 1.0
    # t and dt are unused in this simulation, but are in general, 
    # parameters of engine (acceleration may depend on them)
    t, dt = 0., 1.

    bClearScreen = True
    pygame.display.set_caption('Gravity simulation (SPACE: show orbits, '
                               'keypad +/- : zoom in/out)')
    while True:
        t += dt
        if bClearScreen:  # Show orbits or not?
            win.fill((0, 0, 0))
        for p in g_listOfPlanets:
            if not p._merged:  # for planets that have not been merged, draw a
                # circle based on their radius, but take zoom factor into account
                pygame.draw.circle(win, (255, 255, 255),
                     int(p._r*zoom), 0)

        # Update all planets' positions and speeds (should normally double
        # buffer the list of planet data, but turns out this is good enough :-)
        for p in g_listOfPlanets:
            if p._merged or p is sun:
            # Calculate the contributions of all the others to its acceleration
            # (via the gravity force) and update its position and velocity
            p.updatePlanet(t, dt)

        # See if we should merge the ones that are close enough to touch,
        # using elastic collisions (conservation of total momentum)
        for p1 in g_listOfPlanets:
            if p1._merged:
            for p2 in g_listOfPlanets:
                if p1 is p2 or p2._merged:
                if planetsTouch(p1, p2):
                    if p1._m < p2._m:
                        p1, p2 = p2, p1  # p1 is the biggest one (mass-wise)
                    p2._merged = True
                    if p1 is sun:
                        continue  # No-one can move the sun :-)
                    newvx = (p1._st._vx*p1._m+p2._st._vx*p2._m)/(p1._m+p2._m)
                    newvy = (p1._st._vy*p1._m+p2._st._vy*p2._m)/(p1._m+p2._m)
                    p1._m += p2._m  # maintain the mass (just add them)
                    p1.setRadiusFromMass()  # new mass --> new radius
                    p1._st._vx, p1._st._vy = newvx, newvy

        # update zoom factor (numeric keypad +/- keys)
        if keysPressed[pygame.K_KP_PLUS]:
            zoom /= 0.99
        if keysPressed[pygame.K_KP_MINUS]:
            zoom /= 1.01
        if keysPressed[pygame.K_ESCAPE]:
        if keysPressed[pygame.K_SPACE]:
            while keysPressed[pygame.K_SPACE]:
            bClearScreen = not bClearScreen
            verb = "show" if bClearScreen else "hide"
                'Gravity simulation (SPACE: '
                '%s orbits, keypad +/- : zoom in/out)' % verb)

if __name__ == "__main__":
        import psyco
        print 'Psyco not found, ignoring it'

profile for ttsiodras at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers
GitHub member ttsiodras
Updated: Tue Jun 13 21:05:28 2023