Augsburg News

News Archives - 2004

Jachin Rupe: Counting the Stars

September 2004

Like many Augsburg students, senior Jachin Rupe spent his summer enhancing his education by going beyond the College campus and city limits to participate in a summer research project. Rupe, who is a computer science and studio arts major, math minor, spent his summer at Oklahoma State University working on a star field recognition project, which is basically a program for identifying stars in photographs.

Professors from Oklahoma State University received funding from the National Science Foundation that allowed them to "hire" undergraduates to help them with this research project. Rupe applied and was accepted to the program.

"I had the opportunity to partake in a similar program at Augsburg last summer," Rupe said. "It was so much fun and such a valuable experience, I applied to as many of these summer opportunities all over the country that I could."

Rupe said the inspiration for this project came from the idea of using the stars to navigate, a technique that was very popular in the "olden" days.

"You can still do this but the GPS system works much better. However in space, far away from earth there is no GPS system. Satellites going to other planets have to use unreliable techniques to navigate. One idea that might help with this problem is if Satellites were outfitted with a camera so they could take a picture of the stars. If the satellite could identify a group (field) of stars in the picture, it could figure out what direction it was facing, and how it was oriented. If it took a couple of pictures it should be able to tell if it's rotating and if so how quickly and in what direction.

The goal for this project is to try to develop a software tool (Johann) that takes an image of stars, match a field of stars in the image to a particular set in a library (database) of stars, and then use that information to make some decisions about how the picture is oriented and what direction the camera is facing. Currently if a satellite has a problem (rocket misfires, micro meteor bumps it, etc.) and it loses its signal with earth there is no easy way for it to find Earth again. The station on earth sends a constant signal and the satellite sweeps around until it finds it. If the satellites had the ability to recognize star fields it should be able to figure out exactly where earth is, maybe even identify it in an image, and reorient it self."

Currently they are calling the software they are developing Johann, after the Astronomer Johann Bayer. He was the astronomer who labeled stars in constellations with Greek letters depending on their brightness, Alpha being the brightest star in the constellation then on down the alphabet.

Rupe said it was an excellent opportunity to learn new computer skills. It was also a good opportunity to meet other people, work in a group and do research, which is important to his future plans of attending graduate school.