Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research

The name itself actually precisely describes its field of research: the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. The scientists in Göttingen focus on Earth's cosmic neighbourhood – the Sun, the planets and their moons, as well as a variety of small bodies. They look into the heart of the star that keeps us alive, investigate its gaseous envelope, the solar magnetic field and the high-energy particles which our Sun ejects into space. The surfaces of the planets and their different “spheres” – atmospheres, ionospheres and magnetospheres – their rings and satellites, as well as comets and planetoids are further subjects for physical models and numerical simulations. And since the objects are not that far away, astronomically speaking, the Max Planck researchers love to take a look around for themselves – not in person, but by using international space probes and landers, for which they develop and build instruments and detectors.


Justus-von-Liebig-Weg 3
37077 Göttingen
Phone: +49 551 384 979-0
Fax: +49 551 384 979-240

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Solar System Science

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

Department Physics of planets and comets more
Department Physics of the interior of the Sun and Sun-like stars more
Department Solar physics and heliosphere more
Giant swirls on the Sun
The waves that now have now been found on the Sun are similar to those controlling weather on Earth more
A deep look into the hearts of stars
Researchers measure the inner structure of distant suns from their pulsations more
Recipe for a comet
Rearchers analyse which chemical elements make up comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko more
Comet probe reveals dust cloud
Five instruments from the Rosetta spacecraft recorded the eruption of jets of dust on 67P/Chruyumov-Gerasimenko more
The double asteroid
An object with the name 288P is the only known active asteroid comprising two components more
Unleashed magnetic power

Unleashed magnetic power

August 22, 2017
The spots on the surface of our Sun bear witness to the activity in its interior more
Variable sunshine
Max Planck researchers explain why our Sun's brightness fluctuates more
Full braking at Alpha Centauri
Space travel visionaries solve the problem of interstellar slowdown at our stellar neighbour more
Ceres: Water ice in eternal polar night
The cameras of the Dawn space probe discover water ice in Ceres’ polar region. It can survive for aeons in the extreme cold traps, even though there is no atmosphere. more
A well-rounded star
Scientists measure the shape of Kepler 11145123 with unprecedented precision more
Eavesdropping on aliens

Eavesdropping on aliens

March 01, 2016
A small band in the sky has been identified in which extraterrestrial astronomers have good chances of discovering Earth more
The habitability of other worlds
New methods allow precise measurements of the gravity of stars and the size of exoplanets more
Water vapor on dwarf planet Ceres
The Occator crater on the surface is active - data from NASA’s Dawn mission indicate frozen water sublimating from its center more
<p>Dust particles from outer space</p>
Researchers have analyzed the Ulysses interstellar dust measurements more
Ceres close up

Ceres close up

August 27, 2015
Just arrived in a new orbit: from an altitude of only 1470 kilometres, the Dawn space probe is now gazing at the dwarf planet Ceres. more

A space probe has journeyed to Ceres for the first time. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen are using its two onboard cameras to explore the dark surface of the dwarf planet. They have already discovered signs of frozen water – but is there also an ocean slumbering deep below the craters?

Snow formed from iron or metallic hydrogen – both of these phenomena can drive magnetic fields. Measuring them provides researchers with insights into the processes that change the internal mechanisms of the planets. Ulrich Christensen, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, investigates the broad diversity of these magnetic fields.
Although the comparison with the manned moon landing may appear somewhat exaggerated, Rosetta is undoubtedly one of space travel’s most daring enterprises: For the first time in history, a probe is accompanying a comet on its orbit around the Sun – and in mid-November, it set down the Philae lander on its surface. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen have front row seats for the evaluation of the images and data from the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The Sun – A Mercurial Star

4/2014 Environment & Climate
The Sun is the Earth’s principal source of energy and climate driver. Yet sometimes it sends more light to the Earth than other times. Astronomers working with Natalie Krivova at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen take these fluctuations in solar radiation into account in their models to find out whether they contribute to global warming or counteract it.
It was a historic event for researchers and a spectacle for the media: On the eve of March 14, 1986, the Giotto space probe hurtled past Halley’s Comet at a distance of 600 kilometers and sent back measurement data and close-ups of the nucleus. More than 220 European scientists were involved in the project, including 22 from Max Planck institutes.
Those who experience a total solar eclipse are overwhelmed as they look at the circle of light that surrounds our Sun. Laypeople may find it enchanting, but researchers have been racking their brains over it for decades. Why, they wonder, does this gaseous layer – the corona – have a temperature of several million degrees?
The Sunrise solar observatory successfully completed its first balloon flight.
Ulrich Christensen goes way below planetary surfaces. He simulates their interiors and investigates their makeup in the search to clarify how their magnetic fields come about.
PhD Position in Solar Physics
Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen May 18, 2018
PhD position in Solar Physics
Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen April 24, 2018
Database Software Developer
Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen April 06, 2018

Sunrise for six days

2017 Riethmüller, Tino L.; Barthol, Peter; Solanki, Sami K.
Astronomy Astrophysics
Lifted by a huge helium-filled balloon, the solar observatory Sunrise has already carried out two sixday long flights along the Arctic Circle. While the first flight has provided new insights into the lower atmosphere of the Sun at low magnetic activity, some selected findings of the second flight, carried out at a significantly higher solar activity level, are presented here. more

Rotation and activity of Sun-like stars

2016 Nielsen, Martin B.; Gizon, Laurent
Astronomy Astrophysics

The origin of magnetic spots on stars like the Sun is not understood. Stellar rotation is a key ingredient in models of stellar magnetism. Five Sun-like stars observed by the Kepler space telescope are found for which both the internal rotation rate (using asteroseismology) and the surface rotation rate (using starspots) could be measured. Together these measurements show that the difference between surface and internal rotation in these stars is small, as in the Sun. The upcoming PLATO space mission will allow to apply this analysis to many thousands of sun-like stars.


Rosetta and Philae at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

2015 Boehnhardt, Hermann
Astronomy Astrophysics
Since summer 2014 Rosetta explores comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In November 2014 the Philae lander landed on the surface of the comet. The first measurements of the scientific instruments allow conclusions on the formation of small bodies in the early phase of solar system formation, on cometary activity and on the importance of comets for the existence of water on Earth. more

While the Sun appears relatively uniform in visible light, it presents its complex magnetic nature and esthetic beauty in X-rays. Of particular interest in terms of physics is the region governed by the intimate interaction between magnetic field and plasma. This magnetic transition, located a few 1000 km above the solar surface, is the prime topic of the space-based solar observatory IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph). Here some results will be reported that present us with a new, more complex view of the atmosphere of the Sun and that pose a variety of new questions.


Exploration of the asteroid 4 Vesta

2014 Nathues, Andreas; Christensen, Ulrich R.
Astronomy Astrophysics

The exploration of the conditions that have prevailed in the early Solar System is the goal of NASA’s Dawn mission [1], for which MPS provided two cameras (“Framing Cameras“) [2]. The Dawn mission explored the asteroid 4 Vesta from different orbits for a period of one year, and is now approaching asteroid 1 Ceres. The Vesta mission phase led to a series of discoveries as, for example, the proof of an iron core, the widespread occurrence of dark material on the otherwise bright surface, as well as a variety of distinctive surface structures that point to a turbulent past of Vesta.


Braiding of magnetic fields on the Sun

2014 Peter, Hardi
Astronomy Astrophysics

The outer hot and dynamic atmosphere of the Sun, the corona, is dominated by the magnetic field. Convective motions near the surface are braiding the magnetic field lines that reach into the corona, and by this induce currents which are then dissipated and heat the plasma. Numerical experiments can capture the underlying processes well enough to reproduce the complex observations of the real Sun. The interplay of modern solar observations and numerical models on supercomputers provides the means to get closer to an understanding of the heating, structure, and dynamics of the solar corona.


Sources of water in the outer solar system

2013 Hartogh, Paul
Astronomy Astrophysics
Its unprecedented sensitivity enabled the Herschel Space Observatory to provide unique solar system observations. Herschel made the first measurement of the hydrogen isotopes D/H in a Jupiter family comet. Unexpectedly the determined value is consistent with the one in the Earth oceans. We conclude that comets are the possible suppliers of the terrestrial water. At the same time Herschel discovered a large water torus, centered on Saturn’s E-ring. It seems to be a medium transporting water originating from cryovolcanic activity of the moon Enceladus into Saturn’s and Titan’s atmospheres. more

Is convection in the solar interior slower than expected?

2013 Birch, Aaron; Gizon, Laurent; Hanasoge, Shravan; Langfellner, Jan
Astronomy Astrophysics

Convection is the main mechanism for transporting energy from the base of the solar convection zone to the surface and is thought to be responsible for maintaining the observed global-scale flows of the Sun. Helioseismology, the use of solar oscillations to study the Sun’s interior, has been applied to observations from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager on board the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory to obtain upper limits on the amplitudes of convective flows. These limits are in conflict with theoretical prediction and demand a rethinking of convection theory.


Asteroseismology of a Sun-like planet-hosting star

2012 Stahn, Thorsten; Gizon, Laurent
The measurement of stellar oscillations allows us to infer the structure, evolution, and internal rotation of stars. The Sun-like planet-hosting star HD 52265 was observed with the CoRoT space telescope. The analysis of its oscillations allows to estimate the stellar properties mass, radius, and age with high precision. In addition it was possible to infer the stellar internal rotation from its oscillation frequencies. more

How does a sunspot work?

2012 Lagg, Andreas; Schüssler, Manfred; Solanki, Sami K.
The dark sunspots are regions of strong magnetic field at the solar surface. The origin of their characteristic fine structure and the related gas flows remained an unsolved problem for a century. The interplay between observations with highest spatial resolution and realistic computer simulations now led to the resolution of the riddle. The interaction of the magnetic field with the convective motions, which transport energy from the solar interior to the surface, explains the structure and dynamics of sunspots. more

Exploration of the solar system with Herschel

2011 Hartogh, Paul
Astronomy Astrophysics
Herschel, the largest space telescope ever, was launched by an Ariane V rocket on May 14th, 2009 and observes the universe in the far infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum since. A key project of Herschel is dedicated to the role of water and related chemistry in the solar system. Different classes of comets will be characterized, the cycle of water and its vertical distribution on Mars will be analyzed and the sources of water in the stratospheres of the giant planets and of Saturn’s moon Titan will be explored. more

Sunrise – a solar observatory in the stratosphere

2010 Barthol, Peter; Gandorfer, Achim; Schüssler, Manfred; Solanki, Sami K.
The biggest telescope that ever left the surface of the Earth took off in June 2009 from the European space base ESRANGE near Kiruna (Northern Sweden). Lifted by a helium-filled balloon of 130 meter diameter, the 2.6 ton observatory drifted at a height of 37 km to northern Canada. During the nearly 6 day long flight in the stratosphere, the Sun was observed without interruption, tens of thousands highly resolved images in the ultraviolet light were taken, and the magnetic field at the solar surface was measured with unprecedented precision. more

Beyond the clouds: News from Venus

2009 Titov, Dimitri; Markiewicz, Wojciech; Fränz, Markus
After many years of exploration of planet Venus by sovjet and american spacecraft a large number of questions about history and structure of the planet and its atmosphere remained open. In 2005 the first European mission to planet Venus was launched: Venus Express – with a strong contribution by the MPI for Solar System Research. First analyses of the data received since 2006 show a previously unimagined structuring and dynamics of the cloud layers and allow new conclusions about the evolution of the atmosphere of Venus. more

Physics of Solar Eruptions

2008 Inhester, Bernd; Wiegelmann, Thomas
Since January 2007 the two space craft of NASA's STEREO mission orbit the Sun and provide us for the first time with simultaneously observed images of the Sun from two different viewpoints. The scientists at the MPS have developed analysis tools to generate three-dimensional models of plasma structures in the solar corona and compare them with models of the coronal magnetic field. These investigations aim at a better understanding of energetic eruptions and mass ejections of the solar corona. more


2007 Gizon, Laurent
Millions of modes of vibration, excited by turbulent convection, enable solar physicists to see inside the Sun. Three dimensional helioseismic techniques offer unique prospects for probing complex magnetohydrodynamical processes and uncovering the mechanism of the solar cycle, while the extension of seismic investigations to distant stars will open a new era of observational stellar research. more

Planetary Dynamos

2006 Christensen, Ulrich; Wicht, Johannes; Fränz, Markus
Nearly all the planets in our solar system possess a magnetic field or had one at some time in the past. The diversity of the planetary fields reflects interesting differences in interior dynamics. Their exploration by space missions or computer simulations is an important tool to provide insight into the otherwise shielded planetary interiors. This short introduction gives an overview of activities at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research concentrating mainly on computer models, where considerable progress was achieved during the past years. more

Measurement of coronal magnetic fields

2005 Curdt, Werner; Inhester, Bernd; Innes, Davina; Lagg, Andreas; Solanki, Sami K.; Wang, Tongjiang; Wiegelmann, Thomas; Woch, Joachim
The solar corona harbors gas at temperatures of more than a million degrees. This gas is predominantly trapped on arch-like structures formed by loops of magnetic field. The high temperature and the structure of the coronal gas are attributed to the solar magnetic field. The high degree of order in the corona traces back to the fact that hot gas must follow magnetic field lines. Also magnetic current sheets (“jumps” in the magnetic field) are able to release thermal energy and thus heat the gas. The measurement of coronal magnetic fields is, however, not trivial: the low gas density leads to a weak signature in the spectral lines, i.e. the splitting and polarization caused by the Zeeman-effect. Also, with increasing distance from the solar surface, an effect starts to operate which influences the polarization of the absorbed light. The Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau (MPS) successfully contributed to the solution of this difficult problem of measuring the coronal magnetic field. Two different methods of direct measurement of the magnetic field have been applied: coronal seismology and infrared polarimetry. In addition, based on mathematical models it is possible to infer the coronal magnetic field structure from extrapolations of the reliably determined photospheric magnetic field. more

SMART-1 - Europe’s Mission to the Moon

2004 Mall, Urs
After a limited view of the lunar surface during the years of the Apollo program, remote sensing missions flown during the last ten years have allowed, for the first time, a global overview of the composition of the lunar surface. Lunar science can bring insight into the general understanding of planetary formation theories. After 30 years a new initiative is on the way to resolve the remaining questions in lunar science. Among the currently planned missions, the European SMART-1 (Small Advanced Research Missions) mission will reach the Moon next. As part of the payload a near-infrared spectrometer, named SIR, developed at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Katlenburg-Lindau, will be used to investigate the far side of the Moon, undisturbed from the Earth’s atmosphere, and to participate in the search for water on the Moon. more
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