Making astronomy more accessible
“The vastness of the universe, what else is out there — how can it not capture you, right?” asked Gary Fildes, director of the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, UK. Situated in the rolling green hills of North East England, Fildes has witnessed countless astrological phenomenons in his day — from breathtaking meteor showers to black holes — but he’s never quite seen anyone like Markus Reinert.
Using only a telescope, a camera, and his trusted ThinkPad, Reinert created a software program with enough power to analyze stars — even in heavily light-polluted environments like his hometown of Munich. His work, though comprised from simple parts, was ground-breaking enough to grant him Germany’s prestigious “Jugend forscht,” or Youth in Science Award. While he’s well on his way to a meteoric rise in the scientific community, Reinert’s passion began rather humbly, firmly rooted on planet Earth with a simple school assignment.
“It started at school when I was assigned to write a 15 page paper on the topic of applied math,” explained Reinert. “Already having a passion for astrophysics, I decide to combine the two subjects.” In the meantime, he was already nurturing a budding hobby in amatuer star gazing. Yet, like many city dwellers, Reinert ran into the problem of light pollution. Even a quick trip outside the metropolitan area of Munich was still yielding blurry photos, and ultimately, distorted results.
Over the course of a year, Reinert developed an algorithm that was able to photograph the stars, then adjust the brightness to compensate for light pollution. As Fildes stated, “If you know how bright an object is, you can calculate its distance.”
Filtering through the static and background noise of big city lights, Reinert is able to render the universe into a refined, simple image on his ThinkPad. One might think that Reinert would develop a star-sized ego from his early accolades and advances, but the humble Youth in Science Award-winner is simply happy to be contributing to the scientific community at-large.
“What sets this contest apart is that we don’t see each submission as rivals,” he said. “We are much more collaborative and see each other as partners in science who all strive to learn more about our universe.”
For now, Reinert is studying mathematics at Munich University with a minor in physics — a dual educational path that allows him to combine all of his divergent interests into one program. While each day he adds new tools and techniques to his arsenal of knowledge, he’s already proven he can reach astronomical heights with relatively simple supplies.