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.


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 Planet and Star Formation


Department Atmospheric Physics of Exoplanets


Department Galaxies and Cosmology

Surface of a fictitious planet. It consists of hills of rock. In the background is a lake. The sky has some clouds. Near the horizon a sun shines and bathes the picture in a reddish colour.

Astronomers find rare Earth-mass rocky planet suitable for the search for signs of life

The image shows a tile with pictures of 10 Max Planck researchers who were successful in the 2022 ERC Consolidator Grant award process. They are Annalisa Pillepich, MPI for Astronomy, Philip J.W. Moll, MPI for Structure and Dynamics of Matter, Simone Kuehn, MPI for Education Research, Joshua Wilde, MPI for Demographic Research Meritxell Huch, MPI for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dora Tang, MPI for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Aljaz Godec, MPI for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences, Stéphane Hacquard, MPI for Plant Breeding Research, Hiroshi Ito, MPI for Brain Research, and Daniel Schramek, MPI for Molecular Genetics.

This result puts Max Planck in second place in a Europe-wide comparison

Against the black background of space a gray, irregularly shaped asteroid is shown, covered with craters.

A computer simulation describes the building blocks of our solar system at a time when it was still being formed

In the background: a black surface with isolated bright small dots representing stars.
In the foreground: the left half of the image consists of a grey sphere with various shades and stripes, illuminated from a distance by a yellow light source.

Scientists find the youngest super-Jovian exoplanet yet for which they measure both mass and size

A bright round disc in the background illuminates part of a sphere in the foreground. It has stripes that suggest clouds.

The observatory shows atmosphere properties in more detail than ever before

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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.

The European space observatory Gaia has surveyed approximately two billion stars with unprecedented precision – a treasure trove of data that has already changed our view of the Milky Way. Coryn Bailer-Jones from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg has been involved in the project since its inception. He compiled one section of the star catalog and, among other things, searched it for stars that have approached close to our solar system, or will do so in the future.

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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.


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.


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.


Galactic conveyor belts feed star formation

2019 Dr. Juan Diego Soler

Astronomy Astrophysics

The role of magnetic fields in the formation of stars has been a hot topic among astrophysicists for decades. Now Juan Diego Soler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) has shown that magnetic fields can favour and advance the compression of interstellar matter – a prerequisite for the formation of stars. This conclusion is based on the finding that in star forming regions the interstellar matter, depending on its density, is sometimes oriented parallel to, sometimes rather perpendicular to, the magnetic field lines.


Astronomers witness the birth of a planet

2018 Keppler, M.; Müller, A.

Astronomy Astrophysics

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) and the SPHERE instrument consortium at the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have discovered and characterised an extremely young exoplanet in a state of its formation. This gas giant with the designation PDS 70 b, with a mass equivalent to several Jupiters, was detected orbiting the star PDS 70 within a gap of its protoplanetary disk. This means that PDS 70 b is still in the vicinity of its birth place and likely still accumulating material.

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