A Real No Man’s Sky – The IRL tech & Science of No Mans Sky

No Man’s Sky has had quite the life cycle. Before its release, designer Gareth Bourn made an absolutely amazing array of claims for the mechanics of the game. The hype was real and boy, did it grow. Then the game was released and people very quickly started to see the holes in this Swiss cheese of a game.

Looking at No Man’s Sky

In the public eye, the game had failed to deliver what it had promised, its user base plummeted and Gareth laid very low for a while. That was 2 years ago but what about now? Well, the game has had a range of updates and the user base has grown by a lot.

According to Steam, in June there were 1,035 average players which then climbed to 14,554 in July. That’s massive and it all has to do with the NEXT update. This update includes multiplayer, which was initially promised, as well as a lot of other things. But what from this games universe could be real?

I decided to look at the current technology that we have around space and exploration, and crunch some basic maths about finding new life.

Alien life?

This has continually been the plot of movies for decades. Small green men from far away solar systems and galaxies. Some even suggest that they’re already amongst us. What are the odds though? There is the Drake equation that can be used the hypothesize the existence of intelligent life:

N = R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

This is a number based on electromagnetic emissions, suitable stars, planetary systems, environmental conditions, the chance of intelligence, chance of technology and time for signals to reach Earth. Unfortunately, we don’t have accurate numbers for these variables.

What we do know is that using a statistical study of stars, each star has an average of 1.6 planets. With 100 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, that’s 160 billion planets. Currently, 3,774 exoplanets (planets out of our solar system) have been identified with 55 potentially being habitable. The one you’ve probably heard of it is TRAPPIST-1 that was found last year. The habitable or “Goldilock Zone” refers to an area of the distance around a star in which conditions could support life.


There are also a range of theories about alien life if you’re curious but be careful. It can be a rabbit hole. I recommend looking into The Fermi Paradox, The Great Filter, and Gaian Bottleneck hypothesis if you have time. Basically, the universe is very big and very old which allows us the make some guesses:

  1. It’s just us!
  2. Planet is 4.54 billion years old; maybe they’ve already been?
  3. We’re in the middle of nowhere in the universe.
  4. The government knows but isn’t telling us.
  5. We’re already being observed.
  6. We have the idea of reality wrong
  7. They don’t want to be found.

There are many more but I decided to end it at 7 for the 7 exoplanets in TRAPPIST-1; seemed fitting.

The basic maths shows us that there are 100 billion galaxies in the 13.772 billion +/- 59 million years universe. Using statistical studies, there are approximately 50 sextillion planets. Our galaxy alone has 100-400 billion stars. In No Man’s Sky, there are 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets; roughly 0.00000000000000000542% in the universe. I just wish that life was as abundant as what they make it in the game. Brownie points for No Man’s Sky as they have taken into consideration the Goldilocks Zone when it comes to life and planetary conditions!

Mining Lasers

Throughout No Man’s Sky, you have your trusty mining laser! This is used to mine elemental components for upgrades to make your existence in space a little easier! What about current lasers and how much damage could they cause?

Well, a 5 mW laser pointer dishes out enough light that damage could be caused to the retina at the back of your eye. To a degree, I have experienced said damage but luckily it wasn’t to my eye. Friends from Thailand returned with laser pointers in hand, of a strength that they could be seen for what seemed like 100m into the sky at night. While taking a photo of my food (have you even eaten if you don’t?) my friend shone the light at my camera. The laser actually damaged the photosensitive components of my camera leaving it broken. Let’s increase the watts a little.

Some history

In 2014, the US military tested their Laser Weapon System (LaWS) on drones and boats. The LaWS uses electromagnetic waves outside of the visible light spectrum (infrared or IR light) for an array of purposes. Low wattage can dazzle a person’s sight, to interrupting sensors and motors, and up to 30 thousand watts that can blow up explosive material in 2 seconds. That’s pretty terrifying but that’s not all. It has an effective range of 1.6 km and is more accurate than a bullet. We can go higher though.

In 2015, at the Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments (LFEX) in Japan, a laser beam with a peak power output of 2,000 trillion watts (2 petawatts) was shot off for a trillionth of a second (a picosecond). Besides it being super cool the reason behind it is even cooler. Shooting this beam at atoms results in them vaporizing, becoming plasma in an instant. To a degree and for a very short period of time, scientists had created conditions that resemble space moments after the Big Bang. Of course, they’re also looking into it for potential inexpensive and renewable energy sources as well as a cheaper alternative to particle accelerators but they’re less cool.

The final verdict on mining lasers

There might be a point in the future where we’re using machines that bore into the earth using nothing by electromagnetic radiation. Something along the lines of that World Engine from that little Superman movie. Unfortunately, nothing like the handheld mining laser is around currently. I feel like explosives are still too effective.

Deep Space Travel

Why is it that movies and video games make this look so easy! Well, it’s easy when you don’t have to explain the science behind how it all works. No Man’s Sky makes it easy and there are even space pirates and voyages. What do we have currently that allows us to travel a greater distance through space?

Current technology

The farthest man-made object from us currently, or as of February this year, is the Voyager 1 at 21 billion km and was the first craft to leave the solar system in 2012. It had taken a while to get out there, 41 years roughly. Still, for us to get out that far in that period of time we’d have to travel around 1.403 million km a day or 58,469.8 km/h to get to that distance. That ain’t slow but relating it to the scales of the solar system and that Voyager is travelling at 1/18,000 the speed of light, that isn’t fast at all!

Cue Hawkings!

Breakthrough Starshot is one of the coolest naming contests out there. In 2016, Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner started a content that aims at finding a design that could get us to Alpha Centauri in 20 years (star system 4.37 light years away). Oh, and you’d win $100 million. The premise is simple enough. Around 1000 StarChips (name of the craft), the size of a couple of centimetres would be shot into space where they’d deploying sails. There, ground-based lasers would be directed at the sails to power the craft, reaching speeds of up to 20% that of the speed of light or 59,958.5 km/s. That’s 3,692x faster than the Voyager craft.

Though this technology is still in development, it’s for exploration and not travel. It’s to allow us to have eyes and ears in different star systems surrounding our own. Allowing for this technology to evolve for us to have whole craft travelling near these speeds is going to take us a lot of time and a massive technological jump! When it all does though, let’s just hope that it’s better than the initial launch of No Man’s Sky.

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Nathan Bramley

Nate Bramley: Presenter, writer and teacher, Nate’s curiosity for science and love for geek culture combine in his writing to educate and entertain!

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