Use a JPL planetary ephemeris to predict planet positions.
This package uses a Jet Propulsion Laboratory ephemeris to predict the position and velocity of a planet, or the magnitude and rate-of-change of the Earth’s nutation or the Moon’s libration. Its only dependency is NumPy. To take the smallest and most convenient ephemeris as an example, you can install this package alongside ephemeris DE421 with these commands:
pip install jplephem pip install de421
Loading DE421 and computing a position require one line of Python each, given a barycentric dynamical time expressed as a Julian date:
import de421 from jplephem import Ephemeris eph = Ephemeris(de421) x, y, z = eph.position('mars', 2444391.5) # 1980.06.01
The result of calling position() is a 3-element NumPy array giving the planet’s position in the solar system in kilometers along the three axes of the ICRF (a more precise reference frame than J2000 but oriented in the same direction). If you also want to know the planet’s velocity, call compute() instead:
x, y, z, dx, dy, dz = eph.compute('mars', 2444391.5)
Velocities are returned as kilometers per day.
Both of these methods will also accept a NumPy array, which is the most efficient way of computing a series of positions or velocities. For example, the position of Mars at each midnight over an entire year can be computed with:
import numpy as np t0 = 2444391.5 t = np.arange(t0, t0 + 366.0, 1.0) x, y, z = eph.position('mars', 2444391.5)
You will find that x, y, and z in this case are each a NumPy array of the same length as your input t.
The string that you provide to e.compute(), like 'mars' in the example above, actually names the data file that you want loaded from the ephemeris package. To see the list of data files that an ephemeris provides, call its names() method. Most of the ephemerides provide thirteen data sets:
earthmoon mercury pluto venus jupiter moon saturn librations neptune sun mars nutations uranus
Each ephemeris covers a specific range of dates, beyond which it cannot provide reliable predictions of each planet’s position. These limits are available as attributes of the ephemeris:
t0, t1 = eph.jalpha, eph.jomega
The ephemerides currently available as Python packages (the following links explain the differences between them) are: