Exploring the Galaxy with Python: A Hitchhiker’s Guide Link to heading

Programming and space exploration - two realms that may seem galaxies apart but are actually closer than you think. In the vast cosmos of coding, Python is our trusty spaceship. So, fasten your seatbelts and let’s journey through the stars, one line of code at a time!

Starry, Starry Night Link to heading

First, let’s gaze at our night sky. The Skyfield package in Python is like our digital telescope, allowing us to observe celestial bodies and events. Let’s start by installing it.

pip install skyfield

Next, let’s create a function that prints the current positions of the planets.

from skyfield.api import Topos, load

planets = ['mercury', 'venus', 'mars', 'jupiter', 'saturn', 'uranus', 'neptune']
ts = load.timescale()
t = ts.now()

def print_planet_positions():
  for planet in planets:
    eph = load('de421.bsp')
    planet_position = eph[planet]
    earth = eph['earth']
    astrometric = earth.at(t).observe(planet_position)
    ra, dec, distance = astrometric.radec()
    print(f'{planet.capitalize()}: RA={ra.hours}h DEC={dec.degrees}° Distance={distance.au} AU')


Running the above code will give you the right ascension (RA), declination (DEC), and distance in astronomical units (AU) of each planet from Earth. You can now play cosmic GPS!

The Python Rocket Science Link to heading

Rocket science may sound intimidating, but Python can simplify it for us. The poliastro package is a perfect toolkit for orbital mechanics and astrodynamics. Let’s install it.

pip install poliastro

Now, let’s simulate a Hohmann transfer, a maneuver used to transfer a spacecraft from one orbit to another with the least possible propellant.

from poliastro.bodies import Earth, Mars
from poliastro.twobody import Orbit
from poliastro.maneuver import Maneuver
from poliastro.plotting import OrbitPlotter2D

# Define the initial and final orbits (circular for simplicity)
r_i = Earth.R + 300 * 1e3  # Initial altitude of 300 km
r_f = Mars.R + 300 * 1e3  # Final altitude of 300 km
orbit_i = Orbit.circular(Earth, r_i)
orbit_f = Orbit.circular(Mars, r_f)

# Compute the Hohmann transfer maneuver
man = Maneuver.hohmann(orbit_i, r_f)
orbit_trans, orbit_final = orbit_i.apply_maneuver(man, intermediate=True)

# Plot the orbits
op = OrbitPlotter2D()
op.plot(orbit_i, label="Initial orbit")
op.plot(orbit_trans, label="Transfer orbit")
op.plot(orbit_final, label="Final orbit")

Running this script will provide a plot of the spacecraft’s initial orbit around Earth, its transfer orbit, and its final orbit around Mars.

Conclusion Link to heading

As we’ve seen, Python offers many tools to explore the cosmos from your own computer. While we’re not quite at the stage of being able to code a trip to Alpha Centauri, with Python, you’re already closer to the stars than you might think. So keep exploring, keep learning, and remember - don’t panic.

Remember, space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.