Though the expansiveness of the universe may be daunting to some, 18-year-old Christopher Slayton decided to embrace the vastness rather than be intimidated by it. For nearly two months, he analyzed structures in outer space and recreated the cosmos from the virtual cubes that make up the video game world of Minecraft.
Slayton, who graduated high school in the spring, researched black holes, assessed the various hues of Saturn’s rings and looked at images of Earth to build the universe—block by block—on his computer, reports April Rubin for the New York Times.
After all the effort to re-create the universe, “I realized even more how beautiful it is,” Slayton tells the Times.
Throughout the project, he complemented his building with hands-on, viral-video-friendly experiences. For example, before recreating Earth, the first object he made, Slayton decided to skydive—“to truly appreciate the beauty of our planet,” he says in the YouTube video. Ultimately, he ended up using a globe for reference, measuring the locations of each continent to make his block-Earth to scale. From there, he went on to build each planet in our solar system.
For the sun, Slayton used the “brightest blocks in Minecraft” and even included solar flares to make the star “feel alive with fire,” he says in the video. As he moved on to creating a cluster of galaxies, he hiked to the top of a mountain with a friend and set up a telescope in an attempt to observe the real-world collections of stars, gas, dust and planets that he sought to replicate.
“We were surrounded by the cosmos, millions of stars right before our eyes,” Slayton says in the video.
Within his model universe, Slayton also recreated a black hole, inspired by the 2014 movie Interstellar, and crafted the plumes of gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. Finally, he made a spherical, web-like structure that represented the whole universe. Slayton used various “mods,” or modifications that edit the structure or existing code of a video game, throughout the project to accelerate the building process.
Slayton’s creation follows a long line of Minecraft players setting out to rebuild worldly and otherworldly structures, including Mount Olympus from Greek mythology and Middle-Earth from The Lord of the Rings, as Wired's Simon Hill reported last year.
The first edition of Minecraft was released in 2009, followed by a fuller version in 2011. Since then, it has become one of the most popular video games in the world, with various YouTube channels, forums, competitions and online communities dedicated to it. Slayton has been playing Minecraft for most of the game's existence; he says in the video that he's played for nine years.
Beyond just being a pastime, the game has practical and educational applications, as B. Reeja Jayan, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, tells the Times. She uses Minecraft to teach a materials science course.
“In my opinion, learning must be fun,” she tells the publication. “And one of the advantages of using a game like Minecraft is it’s so flexible. It’s so easy for a small child to learn to play the game, but at the same time it’s been adapted for teaching advanced scientific concepts.”
Slayton, who lives in San Diego with his family, hopes to explore other cosmic themes in future Minecraft projects and videos, including the fourth dimension and the multiverse, he tells the Times.
Since the video of the universe recreation project was posted on YouTube earlier this month, it has amassed more than one million views, and Slayton now has over 100,000 subscribers to his channel—and counting. Though he’s considering going to college in the future, for now, Slayton hopes to enhance his YouTube channel and reach more users, he tells the Times.
“I want to tell a real entertaining story, unlike how anyone else has done it in the Minecraft community or just the gaming community,” Slayton tells the publication. “I kind of want to up the standards a bit.”