A3 Computational and Sky Simulation Software

We include a selected number of software packages with which we are familiar and have used to varying degrees in this work. For up-to-date and more complete lists, we recommend the software review pages linked to the Sky & Tele scope website as well as recent reviews in that magazine before any purchase is made.

Sources of useful programs include:

(1) Standish, E.M. JPL Planetary and Lunar Ephemerides on CD-ROM. Available on-line and from Willmann-Bell, Richmond, VA.

(2) Bretagnon, P., and Simon, J.-L. 1986. Planetary Programs and Tables from -4000 to +2800. (Richmond: Willmann-Bell).

(3) Duffett-Smith, P. 1985/1990. Astronomy with your Personal Computer. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press); and 1996. Easy PC Astronomy (Cambridge: the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge).

The first work contains algorithms and FORTRAN subroutines to provide rectangular coordinates of the Sun, Moon, and nine planets. Three sets of ephemerides are provided: DE 200 (includes nutation but not librations, and covers the interval 1599 Dec. 9 to 2169 Mar. 31); DE 405 (includes both nutation and librations, for the interval 1599 Dec. 9 to 2201 Feb. 20); and DE 406, the "New JPL Long Ephemeris" (includes neither nutation nor librations, but covers the interval -3000 Feb. 23 to +3000 May 6).

The second work contains programs containing algorithms and formulae for computing azimuths, altitudes, and other practical quantities. Corrections for refraction and extinction are included. "Easy PC Astronomy" offers a script language for calculations.

(4) Montenbruck, O. 1989. Practical Ephemeris Calculations. (New York: Springer).

(5) Montenbruck, O., and Pfleger, T. 1991. Astronomy on the Personal Computer. (New York: Springer).

Some of the self-contained computer software programs available at present include:

(1) Distant Suns (PC) (RomTech, Inc., 2945 McMillan Avenue, Sanhui, Obispo, California, 93401-6767 U.S.). This software package produces all sky and horizon views, but our printed charts sometimes bear a spurious anti-ecliptic that does not appear on screen or even in the preview screen, possibly an unmasked view of the far side of the sphere. The program is best used for contemporary sky simulations; avoid negative Gregorian dates.

(2) Guide 8.0 (PC) (Project Pluto, 168 Ridge Road, Bowdoinham, Maine, 04008).

This software makes excellent deep sky prints for astronomical observations. We have not used it much for archaeoastronomy, but others have. The star positions incorporate corrections for proper motions as well as for precession. We have been successful in receiving timely responses to our emails from "Project Pluto" (Bill Gray), in sharp contrast to the lack of responses from most star chart or planetarium software vendors.

(3) Redshift: Multimedia Astronomy (PC) (Maris Multimedia Ltd., 99 Mansell St., London E1 8AX, England).

This package is one of the most versatile we have found. We tested it on the lunar eclipse of Aug. 9, 2403 b.c. (Julian Calendar), calculated by Schoch (1927) for Babylon, and found it to show the total umbral eclipse on this date. There are conjunction and eclipse finders for specified years or ranges of years. Movies of such events can be played, and many modes of viewing the sky are available.

(4) Starry Night (PC) (Sienna Software, 411 Richmond St. East, Suite 303, Toronto, Ontario, M5A, 3S5, Canada).

Starry Night is said to produce some of the most visually stunning results. Many prefer this software package, but we have not had opportunity to use it.

This software package contains solar system objects, stars from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Variable stars from the General Catalogue of Variable Stars, clusters, nebulae, and galaxies, all to relatively faint limits (specifiable). This package is good for calling up star charts, but we did not find it particularly friendly, and obtaining hard copy charts from its screens can be a nightmare.

(6) TheSky (PC) (The Sky Astronomy Software for Windows, available through the Astronomical Soc. of the Pacific, San Francisco, CA).

This software package provides nice views of the sky at various time in the past and for everywhere on Earth, and, by a selection of "filters," various planets, Sun, Moon, stars, clusters, galaxies, and nebulae can be included. There is a slight bias toward equatorial charts; fields have to be rotated to present horizon views (although both sets of grids are available). There is no ecliptic system of coordinates either in text information or charting available, other than the ecliptic depiction itself (this shortcoming is shared by many of the packages). All charts can be printed as needed. This program is best run on contemporary sky simulations.

(7) Visible Universe (PC) (Parsec Software, 1949 Blair Loop Road, Danville, VA. 24541).

This software package provides views of sky from any geographical location from any date in the distant past to the future. Solar system objects, stars from the Bright Star Catalogue, brighter clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are included. Time lapse images can produce a dynamic recreation of events. For example, the simulation of the blood-red eclipsed Moon rising above the Heelstone at Stonehenge on Dec. 22, 1471 b.c. is breathtaking. We are unsure if the current package is being maintained.

(8) Voyager (Macintosh) [Carina Software, San Leandro, CA]

This package can provide all sky views and display horizon views from any epoch; it contains the brighter stars, the planets, Sun, and Moon. The graphic screens as well as text can be output to printers. Voyager has consistently been hailed as one of the best packages available. As far as we have been able to tell, however, the company does not respond to email. The PC version of this software package is available in Voyager iii. This program appears to be reliable for ancient sky simulations, but one should be cautious when using any program for historical work if the corrections for AT, due to Earth's variable rotation, treatment of precession, or calendar implementation are not explicitly described.

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