Your web browser is more than just a way to look at websites. Web technology has grown to the point where complex software can run right there in your browser. Which means there are some pretty amazing web-based simulators you can click on right now from any device with a compatible browser.

The five online simulators below use the latest in web animation, 3D graphics and web app technology to deliver something you’d have needed a supercomputer for thirty years ago, right onto your screen. So why not ditch reality for a while and spend some time exploring one of these simulations?

GEO-FS Flight Simulator

It’s been a while since we’ve seen any decent new flight simulators come to market. Microsoft is cooking up something special with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, but what if you just feel like getting in a virtual aircraft and flying around the globe a bit?

That’s where GEO-FS comes into the picture. It’s an amazing online flight simulator with 20 different aircraft, 30 000 runways and a global terrain to fly over. More impressive than anything is how GEO-FS feeds information from the real world into the simulation.

You’ll see real commercial air traffic, real-time weather conditions and other players flying around in this massive multiplayer simulator. Sure, there are nicer flight simulators when it comes to graphics, but GEO-FS has amazing attention to detail in areas where other simulators simply won’t touch – and it runs in your browser.

Google Earth

Google Earth is, of course, also available as a downloadable app. However, if you use the Chrome Browser you can launch Google Earth in a browser tab within seconds. Depending on your internet speed of course.

Google has done a massive amount to this underappreciated software over the years. It’s by far the best way to seamlessly explore our planet. You can spin the globe with a click of your mouse, view it from space and then zoom down to ground level. Get access to incredibly detailed 3D renderings of the surface, knowledge cards, guided tours and more. 

Honestly, this makes the job of teachers so much easier. It boggles the mind that Google just gives it away for free.

Solar System Scope

While Google Maps has recently added planets other than Earth to its collection, neither it or Google Earth provide a complete model of our solar system. There are actually quite a few decent online simulations of our solar system. So in some ways you are spoilt for choice when it comes to taking a trip through our space backyard.

We like an online simulator app called Solar System Scope, which really has one of the nicest, smoothest models to run in a browser. These guys have been working on visualizations of space events for some time. You’ll find a whole library of neat animations done in Flash, which is obviously obsolete now, but still pretty good.

The main attraction is the new true 3D model. By default it has some exaggerations, but if you delve into the settings you can toggle realistic relative sizes, moons and other details on and off. You can also set any date and time to see the correct positions of all the celestial bodies, past or future.

Despite the name, Solar System Scope actually offers a view that goes substantially beyond our local space. You can zoom out to have a gander at our own galaxy, the Milky Way, with some details about places of interest on the way there. 

However, Solar System Scope mainly shines when playing around with the eight planets we all know and love.

PhET Physics Simulators

Online simulators that feel real aren’t just about graphics that look realistic. These educational physics simulators are cartoon-y and aren’t meant to look like the real thing. In fact, many of the things that are simulated by these interactive simulation apps are theoretical, microscopic and even sub-atomic.

What feels real about these simulations is the math behind it. You can fiddle with the variables and see what the real-life effect of that would be. All without needing to set up an experiment or having real lab equipment.

Most of the simulators in the collection can be run in your browser. Just be aware that not all of them are HTML 5, so you might have to enable flash to get them to work. With that small caveat out of the way, this is probably the best place to get educational simulations for the sciences.

Bonus: SimCity 2000

OK, this last one might be a bit of a cheat, since this is literally just the original SimCity 2000 running in a browser. Still, think about what this means. One of the best classic city simulator games can now be played in its original DOS form, in your browser in seconds. All you have to do is click on the link above and within a minute you’ll be building your city.

It’s a proper DOS PC emulator running in your browser. So you’re playing a simulator game on a (sort of) simulation of an old computer system. It really feels just like the real thing.

It’s sim-ception, but it’s no less fun than it’s always been. If you can put up with the ads, Play Classic has a lot of other old titles as well, so you can pretend it’s the 1990s again and you’re booting up your old Pentium PC.

Is This The Real Life? Or Is It Just Fantasy?

Simulation can be fun, educational and useful. So it’s a good thing you don’t need access to a university computer building to play around with these neat virtual representations of the real world. 

These online simulators are a testament to how far consumer technology has come, with devices in the palm of your hand or nestled on your lap, tapping into the seemingly infinite power of the internet.