Markus Reinert Q&A: The Sky is the Limit for Young Scientist’s Star Analysis Software

It’s not every day you come across a young teenage boy with his nose buried into a computer coding book one day and observing the constellation of the Jupiter moons another. Meet Markus Reinert, a student from Germany, who found a passion for computer programming and astronomy at a young age. Fast forward several years later with a few developed software programs under his belt, Markus is now a nationally recognized young scientist and the winner of Germany’s prestigious “Jugend forscht” (Youth in Science) Award.

At 18-years-old, Markus created a software program that analyzes stars, even in brightly lit environments like the city center of Munich, where Markus lives and often observes stars from.  Using just a telescope, his trusted Lenovo ThinkPad L430 and his proprietary software program, Markus realized how much he could learn about the world with a small yet powerful set of tools and technology. We spoke with Markus to learn more about what about the universe inspires him and how that led to the creation of his star analysis software.

What sparked your interest in astronomy and science?
When I was younger, my friend introduced me to observing the constellation of the moons of Jupiter. I found the idea of being able to learn about the universe just by observing patterns in the sky to be so intriguing, and this led to my interest in astrophysics. You can learn so much simply through observing and looking at bright spots in the dark sky.

Now, I’m studying mathematics at Munich University with a minor study in physics. Choosing this educational path allows me to pursue both career and personal interest aspirations.

Why create a software program that analyzes stars and how did you do it?
It started at school when I was assigned to write a 15-page paper on the topic of applied math. Already having a passion for astrophysics, I decided to combine the two subjects, and writing about variable stars was a topic where I could apply both astrophysics and math to my research.

At the same time, I was already observing stars on my own as a hobby. Sometimes I would go outside to find dark areas for star observation, but most of the time, it wasn’t practical for me to go outside the metropolitan area of Munich. This became problematic because the city is too brightly lit, making it difficult for star observation. To properly analyze stars, you need to connect your camera to your telescope to capture accurate depictions of the star patterns and brightness. But when I took these photos within the Munich city limits, all of the city’s background lights disturbed the algorithm.

Between writing my school paper and running into this problem for proper star analyses, this ultimately led me to the idea of creating a software that could handle filtering through all the background city lights captured in the photos.

A screenshot of Markus’ software which can analyze the variables of individual stars

How does the software work?
The software takes a series of photos, taken over a few nights, and searches for the variable star by measuring its brightness compared to the other stars.  By using this software, I can properly analyze star variables without any confusion from conflicting city brightness. My software uses a completely new algorithm, so it’s exciting to have created something so unique on my own. I no longer have to worry about extracting my star analyses through blurred or inaccurate images.

Original image of the Beta Lyrae star captured by Markus Reinert

How long did it take you to develop the software program?
The whole process took about a year, but designing the program itself took about three months. After the first 2-4 weeks of the design phase, the software was running for the first time, and thereafter, I spent time fine tuning the program.

What other programs have you developed?
A few years ago, I developed a software for classroom computers with a unique computer interface suitable for classrooms and students. I also program small scripts that help me automate actions on my computer, such as automatically renaming files. This is especially beneficial when I’m using multiple cameras for my star observations that saves photos in different name formats; it saves me a significant amount of time from renaming each individual image.

What does winning the Youth in Science award mean to you?
I think what sets this contest apart is that we don’t see each submission as rivals; we are much more collaborative and see each other as partners in science who all strive to learn more about our universe.

This was my fifth time participating in the contest. I first heard about it from one of my school teachers who asked if I was interested in participating, and the contest holds a high caliber list of respected figures in Germany. The chancellor and president of Germany chooses a winner, and it’s the biggest contest in Europe of its kind. My experience has been incredible because of the atmosphere and collaboration among my peers participating in the contest. It’s a room full of young students who are creating equally fascinating technologies or research.

Markus Reinert at the Youth in Science Award ceremonies in Bavaria with Secretary Dr. Marcel Huber (left) and Bayernwerk CEO Reimund Gotzel (right)

You only use three tools to analyze stars – your telescope, camera and your ThinkPad L430 that powers the software you created. What made you choose a ThinkPad?
When I was in search of a new laptop, I chose the ThinkPad L430 because of its useful features; it’s a robust system with a trackpoint that I use regularly to activate the shutter of the camera connected to my laptop and telescope. One of the most impressive features is the battery life. Whether I’m out in the field observing stars or within the city, I need a laptop that can hold an extended charge, and my ThinkPad does just that. When I’m outside of the city, and the air is wet and colder at night, my laptop battery will still last for hours. It’s important I have full control over my laptop when I’m observing stars.

Markus with his Lenovo ThinkPad L430

Where will your passion for astronomy take you next?
Astronomy will always remain as a very important part of my life. Since I’m a student, I still want to maintain my studies as a student, but this is a topic that I will always find interesting and see as a lifelong passion.

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To learn more about Markus' exploration as a young scientist, check out his #ThinkStories video: