Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences – and yet also one of the most modern. The Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg is proof of this. The researchers here decipher the mysteries of the universe with high-tech instruments, constructing clever add-ons and detectors for telescopes and satellites which examine the light from cosmic sources according to all the laws of physics. Infant stars and the birth of planetary systems are but two objects of their scientific curiosity. “Is Earth the only inhabited place in the universe?” is one of their burning research questions. The Max Planck astronomers also travel through the depths of space and time, investigating active galaxies and quasars to gain an idea of the beginning and the development of today’s richly structured universe.

Contact

Königstuhl 17
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 528-0
Fax: +49 6221 528-246

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS for Astronomy and Cosmic Physics

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Atmospheric Physics of Exoplanets

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Department Galaxies and Cosmology

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Department Planet and Star Formation

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JWST discovers a large variety of carbon-rich gases that serve as ingredients for future planets around a very low-mass star

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Reddish planet is illuminated in a very narrow orbit by its central star (top left in the image)

High temperatures and extreme wind speeds influence the chemistry inside the planet’s atmosphere.

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Flaky structures (blue) against a black background, flowing spirally around a bright centre. On the left half, green and violet dots cover the structures.

Astronomers have identified what could be two of the Milky Way’s earliest building blocks: Named “Shakti” and “Shiva”, these appear to be the remnants of two galaxies that merged between 12 and 13 billion years ago with an early version of the Milky Way, contributing to our home galaxy’s initial growth.

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Blue, earth-like planet in the foreground on the right with a yellow shining star in the background on the left

Simulations provide a potential explanation for the mysterious gap in the size distribution of super-Earths.

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Blue planet illuminated by a bright star

Steamy world could be a sample of water-rich planets throughout our galaxy

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The galaxies we see around us have had a turbulent past, full of collisions, plentiful gas flows, and bursts of increased star formation. Our home galaxy is no exception. A team led by Hans-Walter Rix at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy is reconstructing the Milky Way’s history in a process that resembles archaeological research.

Six months after its launch, the James Webb telescope has delivered its first images, revealing fascinating insights into distant galaxies as well as turbulent scenarios encompassing the birth and death of stars. The space observatory has also captured the spectra of exoplanets. The Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg was involved in building the instruments.

Two years ago, a new department opened at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg in which researchers study the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. Its young director, Laura Kreidberg, has made a name for herself with some of the first observations of these worlds and is one of the lucky ones who will get to observe with the new James Webb Space Telescope.

The chemistry of a star contains valuable information such as its history or affiliation with a particular stellar population. But accurate detection of abundances of chemical elements based on spectral fingerprints require highly sophisticated methods. Maria Bergemann from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg has set new standards here.

Stars cluster in galaxies of dramatically different shapes and sizes: elliptical galaxies, spheroidal galaxies, lenticular galaxies, spiral galaxies, and occasionally even irregular galaxies. Nadine Neumayer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg and Ralf Bender at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching investigate the reasons for this diversity. They have already identified one crucial factor: dark matter.

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Rocky planets could harbour water already at birth

2023 Markus Nielbock, Giulia Perotti, Thomas Henning

Astronomy Astrophysics

Water is essential for life, at least on Earth. The question of its origin is therefore central to the chance of life on other Earth-like planets. Through observations with the James Webb Space Telescope, we have now found evidence for a mechanism that supplies potentially habitable planets with water during their formation. The JWST/MIRI data indicate a substantial reservoir of water in the central region of a planet-forming disk of gas and dust around the young star PDS 70, where Earth-like planets may be forming.

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The exotic weather of the hot Jupiter WASP-121 b

2022 Thomas Mikal-Evans

Astronomy Astrophysics

Through observations of the exoplanet WASP-121 b with the Hubble Space Telescope, we have studied the atmospheric conditions on the night side of a hot Jupiter in detail for the first time. Incorporating measurements from the dayside, we determined the temperature profile in the stratosphere and an unusual water cycle between the two hemispheres. This study is a significant step towards deciphering the global matter and energy cycles in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

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Raw material for new stars

2021 Syed, Jonas

Astronomy Astrophysics

From the data of the THOR survey led at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), we have identified one of the longest known structures in the Milky Way, stretching some 3900 light years and consisting almost entirely of atomic hydrogen gas. This filament, called Maggie, could represent a link in the stellar matter cycle. Our analysis suggests that locally the atomic gas binds to molecular hydrogen there. Compressed in large clouds, this material ultimately forms stars.

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How to weigh a quasar

2021 Dr. Felix Bosco, Dr. Jörg-Uwe Pott

Astronomy Astrophysics

We have successfully tested the performance of a new method for determining the masses of extreme black holes in quasars, called spectroastrometry, for the first time through observations. It measures radiation coming from gas in the vicinity of supermassive black holes. Compared to other weighing techniques, it is relatively straightforward and efficient to perform using modern large telescopes. Its high sensitivity makes it possible to study the surroundings of luminous quasars and supermassive black holes in the early Universe.

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The cosmic commute towards star and planet formation

2020 Henshaw, Jonathan D.

Astronomy Astrophysics

The molecular material in giant molecular gas clouds travels along intricate networks of filamentary gas lanes towards the congested centres of gas and dust where it is compressed into stars and planets. Astronomers have measured the motion of gas flowing from galaxy scales down to the dimensions of the gas clumps within which individual stars form. Their results show that the gas pervading each scale is dynamically interconnected: while star and planet formation occurs on the smallest dimensions, this process is controlled by a cascade of matter flows that begin on galactic scales.

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