An anonymous reader writes: Video game designers and astronomers have been working different ends of the same problem: how to chart a galaxy full of stars. Astronomers start with observation, finding new and better ways to look into the sky and record what they can see. Game devs take the limited data we have as a starting point, and assume that everything else in the galaxy obeys roughly the same rules. They generate the rest of the galaxy procedurally from this data. But the information flow isn't simply one-way. As developers like David Braben improve their galaxy-creation models, astronomers can look at the models and see where they match (or not) with further observations, allowing them to improve their own scientific models in the process. "'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’s model has expanded Braben’s understanding of planet formation and distribution. Braben boasts that his games predicted extra-solar planets ('These were pretty close to those that have been since discovered, demonstrating that there is some validity in our algorithms'), and that the game’s use of current planet-formation theories has shown the sheer number of different systems that can exist according to the rules, everything from nebulous gas giants to theoretically habitable worlds."