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    USNO MICA almanac program user report
    From: Paul Hirose
    Date: 2003 Jun 7, 13:02 -0700

    I recently purchased the U.S. Naval Observatory's MICA software,
    version 1.52. MICA runs on both DOS and Macintosh machines, and can
    generate most of the data tabulated in the Astronomical Almanac.
    
    http://aa.usno.navy.mil/software/mica/micainfo.html
    
    MICA's not a complete AA implementation. It doesn't do planetary
    satellites (except Earth's) and minor planets (asteroids). Nor will it
    compute eclipse data.
    
    So what does MICA do? It's got the sun, moon, planets, and many stars.
    It can produce a table of positions, with Astronomical Almanac
    accuracy, for any one of these bodies at a user-specified time
    interval. The time step may be specified in days, hours, minutes, or
    seconds. The smallest time step is .1 second.
    
    There are many choices for the place, origin, and frame of the output
    coordinates. "Place" may be geometric, astrometric, or apparent.
    "Origin" may be topocentric, geocentric, heliocentric, or barycentric.
    "Frame" may be equator of date, ecliptic of date, equator
    of 2000.0, ecliptic of 2000.0, or the local horizon.
    
    Not all possible combinations of those parameters are available, since
    some don't make sense or aren't used.
    
    Regrettably, only two time scales are available: UT1 and TDT.
    
    There's no user access to the TDT vs. UT1 correction factor. MICA
    obtains this from a table which apparently is hardwired into the
    program. An appendix in the manual shows the table, and the
    extrapolated portion is out of date. For example, for mid 2003 the
    table shows TDT 69 seconds ahead of UT1. The true value is around
    64.2. So if you request a body's UT1 coordinates, they're being
    computed for a time about five seconds ahead of what you asked for.
    It's enough to shift the Moon's position 2.5 seconds of arc.
    
    Using TDT is not a complete cure. Topocentric coordinates will be
    incorrect since they depend of the rotational position of Earth and
    thus the TDT-UT1 table rears its head again. To get around this you
    must get the offset from the Web, examine the table in the manual to
    determine what MICA thinks the offset is, then fudge the observer's
    longitude to compensate for the discrepancy. And remember, on top of
    this you're using a time scale more than a minute ahead of UTC and
    UT1. It's a shame MICA has no means to update the TDT - UT1 table, or
    at least a way to enter the offset manually.
    
    Offering the UTC time scale would be an improvement too. Of course
    that would require a manual input for DUT1.
    
    MICA calculates local times of rise, set, and twilight, but that's all
    it does in local time. I think all positional calculations should be
    possible in local time. Particularly so since the stated audience for
    the program includes lawyers and accident investigators.
    
    These folks, and navigators, will be annoyed that MICA outputs
    horizontal coordinates with zenith distance, not altitude.
    
    If you're willing to tolerate that, it's possible to do celestial nav
    sight reduction with MICA. In fact, there's a chapter on that in the
    book. MICA's horizontal coordinates don't take refraction into
    account, so you still have to make that correction to your sextant
    reading.
    
    I mentioned "many stars". MICA has several catalogs of star or
    star-like objects.
    
    1. The 57 navigational stars.
    
    2. A 1535-star subset of the FK5 catalog.
    
    3. A set of 233 extragalactic radio sources.
    
    4. The Messier catalog.
    
    5. A set of 1482 bright stars.
    
    Each catalog is indexed three different ways for convenience. For
    example, if the navigational star catalog is the active one, Rigel may
    be loaded by typing in that name, or BET ORI (beta Orionis), or 11
    (its navigational star number).
    
    The catalogs are ASCII files and the manual describes the format so
    you can build your own catalog files. The format includes fields for
    proper motion and parallax, to enable positions to be calculated with
    high accuracy.
    
    Speaking of the manual, it's a well-written 6" x 9" 140-page hardbound
    book - quite refreshing in this age of "here's the PDF, print it
    yourself".
    
    Windows users will have a bit of a shock, though. MICA runs in a DOS
    window and is controlled entirely through the keyboard. You'll have to
    fight the urge to reach for your mouse.
    
    For all that, I'm fairly satisfied with the interface. After
    installing the software, you can set the book aside and start
    running MICA. Just about everything is obvious, though some settings
    are a bit clumsy to adjust.
    
    The output goes to the screen by default but may be directed to a
    file. A table up to 1000 lines can be produced at one go, but there's
    a command to continue the table seamlessly (no header inserted again)
    from where it left off.
    
    To allow its use as an astrometric engine, the DOS version of MICA may
    be run from a batch file. The MICA control files are ASCII files, but
    their names (one file for setup, one for execution) are fixed.
    Therefore, multiple invocations of MICA from a DOS batch file will
    require file renaming to change MICA's parameters.
    
    Though it's got flaws, I recommend MICA for celestial buffs,
    especially those needing authoritative "ground truth" data to validate
    their own software. The price is right, just $25 from
    Willmann-Bell.
    
    http://www.willbell.com/almanacs/almanac_mica.htm
    
    
    I've read MICA 2.0 will span the years 1850 - 2050, vs. 1990 - 2005 at
    present. If they can do that and fix the problems I pointed out, it
    should be a marvelous program.
    
    
    

       
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