Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

The name suggests a very broad field: The Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. And indeed, the researchers in Garching do study all sorts of objects outside the Earth – but they do set priorities. They investigate our Milky Way, and discovered a few years ago that its centre harbours a gigantic black hole. They study the physics and dynamics of the interstellar matter and the development of galaxies; they observe gamma bursts in the distant Universe and refine the theory of complex plasmas. What’s special: the scientists use the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum, working both with telescopes for visible and infrared light and with satellites that observe the Universe in X-rays or gamma-rays. The Institute develops sophisticated instruments and cameras for these observatories to provide new insights into the “extraterrestrial world”.


85748 Garching
Phone: +49 89 30000-0
Fax: +49 89 30000-3569

PhD opportunities

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

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

Department Optical and interpretive astronomy more
Department Center for Astrochemical Studies more
Department Infrared and sub-millimetre astronomy more
Department High-energy astrophysics more
Department Theory and complex plasmas more
Gravitational waves from merging neutron stars
This cosmic event was also observed in visible light and provides an explanation for gamma-ray bursts more
Ring around a dwarf planet detected
Ten observatories put their sight on the dwarf planet more
Less dark matter in distant galaxies?
Milky Way systems in the early universe consist mainly of gas and stars more
1.2 million galaxies in 3D
Astronomers hope a new map will help to shed light on the dark side of the universe more
Black hole in a lonely galaxy
Astronomers find unusual descendant of a quasar more
The turbulent heart of the Milky Way
Using the X-ray satellite XMM-Newton, astronomers observe the events around the black hole at the centre of our galaxy more
Abell 4067 shows collision of two galaxy clusters
X-ray observations by Max Planck scientists show how the two systems merge more
Gas cloud in the galactic centre
Max Planck researchers discover that two clouds belong to the same complex more
Max Planck Institutes play crucial role in ESA's next large missions
The European Space Agency is now selecting topics for the next large missions in which Max Planck researchers will play a crucial role more
In the clutches of a black hole
Gas cloud swings around gravity monster at the heart of the Milky Way more
The night's spine

The night's spine

June 12, 2013
For millenia, people of all cultures have been fascinated by the Milky Way. But what's behind the diffusely gleaming band of light that stretches across the sky on clear nights? more
The evolution of galaxies
When we look up to the sky on a dark, clear summer night (rare in Germany) we see the shimmering band of the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon. This is our home in the Universe, a galaxy consisting of approximately one hundred billion stars. more
Looking for clues in the cosmic network
Observing the galaxy distribution when the universe was half its current age more
Crafoord Prize for Reinhard Genzel
The Max Planck researcher is honoured for his work on supermassive black holes more
A big meal coming up for galactic black hole
Astronomers discover a gas cloud which will soon be swallowed up by the object Saggitarius A* more
The universe resembles an unfathomably large honeycomb. Gigantic galaxy clusters occupy
the nodes of the waxy walls surrounding the cells composed of empty space. Hans Böhringer
at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching studies these
conglomerations of galaxies, and in the process, encounters the invisible aspects of space.
In the early hours of October 23, 2011, ROSAT was engulfed in the waves of the Indian Ocean. This was the end of a success story that is unparalleled in German space exploration research. The satellite, developed and built by a team led by Joachim Trümper from the Garching based Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, not only found more than 150,000 new cosmic X-ray sources, it also revolutionized astronomy.
A pile of astronomy books and a telescope in his childhood bedroom. Space cast its spell on Sadegh Khochfar at an early age – and he is still captivated today. The 37-year-old now heads a Max Planck research group at the Garching-based Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, where he is at least as successful at piecing together the components of the universe as he was at mixing cocktails as a student.
Pattern recognition aids in analyzing structures in the universe, music, melanomas and brain waves.
Astronomers can now observe the afterglow of gamma-ray bursts in the infrared.
Black holes were long considered to be cosmic curiosities. But at the centers of galaxies, they play an important role.
No job offers available

Behind the scenes of protostellar disks: formation and fragmentation

2018 Bo, Zhao; Caselli, Paola
Astronomy Astrophysics
For a long time the formation of protostellar disks – a prerequisite to the formation of planetary system around stars – was considered to be difficult. The magnetic field threading the dense rotating molecular cloud is dragged to the center by the gravitational collapse, resulting in a braking effect that carries away angular momentum from the central region. Hardly any rotationally supported disk can form this way, unless the tiny grains are removed from the cloud and the separation between the magnetic field and the collapsing flow is enhanced. more

Witnessing the birth of the most massive galaxies in the Universe

2017 Beifiori, Alessandra; Mendel, J. Trevor
Astronomy Astrophysics
The rich diversity of galaxy morphologies grows out of complex physical processes that govern the formation of new stars and the assembly of stellar mass over time. The advent of new near-infrared facilities allowed us to extensively study the distribution of stellar types and chemical properties of distant massive galaxies by measuring the absorption features in their spectra. This constrained their formation times and provided a more detailed picture of their stellar mass distribution, and their dynamical state at the time when the Universe was less than 4 billion years old. more

Our Galaxy, the Milky Way

2016 Gerhard, Ortwin
Astronomy Astrophysics
The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy whose central part, the rotating bulge, must have mostly formed from the Galactic disk. With new infrared data the spatial structure of the Galactic bar and bulge could be determined for the first time. This makes it possible to predict the orbits of stars in the inner Galaxy and to link these with their chemical properties. With dynamical models we investigate the present-day structure and evolutionary history of our Galaxy. more

Our Astrochemical Origins

2015 Caselli, Paola
Astronomy Astrophysics
The birth of a Solar-type star and its planetary system, starting from interstellar clouds in our Galaxy, can elucidate the formation of our own Solar System, including the production of complex organic molecules found in comets and meteorites. We are using dynamical models, astrochemical codes and powerful telescopes to study the physical and chemical structure of dense cloud cores, the future stellar cradles. Recently, we made predictions on the detection of glycine, the simplest amino acid, and we started to unveil the first steps toward the formation of protoplanetary disks. more

Our Solar System in X-rays – a novel view of our cosmic home

2014 Dennerl, Konrad
Astronomy Astrophysics
Solar system X-ray research has experienced a boost during the last two decades. Before 1996, Sun, Earth, Moon, and Jupiter were the only solar system X-ray sources known. Since then, this number has considerably increased, including now also Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, the Jovian moons Io and Europa, the Io plasma torus, the rings of Saturn, two asteroids, as well as comets as an unexpected new class, and even the heliosphere itself. This article outlines the sequence of discoveries, describes how the X-ray emissions originate, explains their importance, and concludes with an outlook. more

Precision cosmology on the large-scale structure of the universe

2013 Sánchez, Ariel G.
Astronomy Astrophysics
The discovery of the accelerated expansion of the Universe has revolutionized the field of physical cosmology. Understanding the origin of this phenomenon is one of the most outstanding problems in physics today. This situation has led to the construction of a new generation of galaxy surveys, aimed at shedding light on this problem. The ongoing Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) is an example of these surveys. BOSS is probing the large-scale structure of the Universe with unprecedented precision, providing new insights on the physics behind cosmic acceleration. more

A gas cloud on its way towards the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Centre

2013 Gillessen, Stefan; Genzel, Reinhard; Eisenhauer, Frank; Fritz, Tobias; Pfuhl, Oliver; Ott, Thomas; Schartmann, Marc; Alig, Christian; Burkert, Andreas
Astronomy Astrophysics
The black hole at the the centre of the Milky Way is – given its size – surprisingly quiet, because it is accreting only a small amount of matter currently. This may change in 2013 since a gas cloud is approaching it almost directly. In autumn 2013, the cloud will get too close to survive this fly by. The tidal forces as well as the atmosphere of the black hole will act on the gas cloud. If these interactions sufficiently slow down the gas, it can be accreted. We then may observe the „feeding“ of the black hole. more

The Plasma Crystal – 10 years of research on the International Space Station

2012 Thomas, Hubertus M.; Morfill, Gregor E.
Plasma Physics
The MPE successfully performs research on complex plasmas on the International Space Station ISS since ten years. This allows scientifically new insights in many fields of physics. More than 60 publications in refereed journals have appeared. Some results shall be presented here. This research not only has a successful history but also a promising future: the next lab PK-4 shall be launched in 2014 and for the farer future a new lab is under development. Thus, plasma crystal research might cover the whole span of life of the ISS. more

eROSITA and the Dark Energy

2012 Predehl, Peter
Astronomy Astrophysics

eROSITA is the core instrument on the Russian Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma mission. From 2013 on eROSITA is expected to deeply survey the entire X-ray sky. The driving science is the detection of 100.000 distant galaxy clusters in order to study the large scale structure in the Universe and test cosmological models including Dark Energy. In addition, eROSITA will detect about 3 million Active Galaxies, widening our view on the evolution of supermassive black holes. eROSITA will also provide new clues on other astrophysical topics, like X-ray binaries and the diffuse galactic emission.


Herschel Space Telescope sheds new light on galaxy evolution

2011 Poglitsch, Albrecht; Lutz, Dieter; Sturm, Eckhard; van Dishoeck, Ewine
The new space telescope Herschel of the European Space Agency ESA, with its MPE-provided instrument PACS on board, enables photometric and spectroscopic observations in the far infrared. Photometric surveys with this facility have now shown that the rapid formation of stars in galaxies in the early Universe took place in a qualitatively different mode than in the more recent past. Furthermore, spectroscopic studies showed, for the first time, in a quantitative way how supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies could terminate the formation of new stars. more

Black Holes in bulges and pseudo-bulges

2010 Thomas, Jens; Nowak, Nina
The formation and evolution of supermassive black holes is an important area of research at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE). A lot of progress was made in the last couple of years using instruments with increasing spatial resolution. The integral-field spectrograph SINFONI built at MPE and now at the Very Large Telescope in Chile is presently the best instrument available to find hidden, inactive black holes in the centres of galaxies. It allows to observe hitherto unstudied galaxy types, yielding important conclusions on the co-evolution of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies. more
The mean ionic charge of solar energetic particles provides critical information for the determination of the source and the acceleration region of the ions. Gradual events show at energies < 0.5 MeV/amu a mean ionic charge of Qm ≈ 10 for iron ions, suggesting a solar wind origin and acceleration by coronal or interplanetary shock waves. Impulsive events show a large increase of Qm(Fe) at 0.1–0.5 MeV/amu from 11 to 20. This can only be explained by acceleration and ionisation in a plasma of sufficiently high density in the low corona, at altitudes of < 0.3 RS (RS: solar radius). more

Diffuse stellar Halos in elliptical Galaxies

2009 Gerhard, Ortwin
Elliptical galaxies are surrounded by extended, diffuse stellar halos. In dense galaxy clusters, these halos interact and may be dissolved to form part of the so-called intracluster light. Through Planetary Nebula stars, it has been possible to investigate the kinematics and dynamics in some of these halos, giving new constraints on the formation and on-going evolution of these galaxies. more

Cosmic gamma-ray bursts: the brightest beacons in the Universe

2009 Greiner, Jochen; Krühler, Thomas; Savaglio, Sandra; Klose, Sylvio*
The hitherto most distant gamma-ray burst (GRB) was recently discovered using the novel 7-channel imager GROND (Gamma-Ray Burst Optical Near-IR Detector), implying the existence of massive stars at an age of the universe of only 800 million years. In addition, GROND delivers unique data concerning the short-time variability of the GRB afterglow which allowed to solve the mystery of the nature of the so-called X-ray flares. more

Matter Distribution Maps reveal Cosmic Scaffolding

2008 Finoguenov, Alexis; Böhringer, Hans; Guzzo, Luigi; Hasinger, Günther
The formation of the large-scale structure of the Universe is essentially determined by the Dark Matter, which constitutes the dominating part of the matter density of the Universe. The visible matter then follows these structures and gives only an indirect picture of the cosmic matter distribution. The COSMOS survey succeeded to provide most detailed picture of the Dark Matter in a sky region with a size of 1.6 square degrees. For the first time the scaffolding of the matter distribution with angular resolution on the sky as well as in depth is seen. It shows a loose network of filaments which intersect in massive structures identified with the locations of galaxy clusters. This overall structure is in good agreement with computer simulations of structure formation models. more

The plasma state of soft matter

2008 Morfill, Gregor E.; Thomas, Hubertus M.
Material Sciences Plasma Physics
Plasmas are regarded as the most disordered state of matter, so it came as a major surprise when in 1994 MPE scientists discovered that under special conditions plasmas can become liquids and may even spontaneously crystallise. These so-called “Complex Plasmas” have unusual properties. They belong to the class of “soft matter” and make it possible, for the first time, to research condensed matter states at the most elementary (individual particle) level at all relevant length and time scales – including the limits and onset of cooperative phenomena. more

XMM-Newton reveals a precessing neutron star

2007 Haberl, Frank
Observations of nearby neutrons stars with the X-ray observatory XMM-Newton revealed a surprising discovery: variations in the X-ray spectrum of RX J0720.4-3125 were found over only a few years. The likely conclusion is that the neutron star precesses. The study of precession may provide an interesting tool to learn more about the inner structure of neutron more

Far Away Galaxy under the Microscope

2007 Förster Schreiber, Natascha M.; Genzel, Reinhard; Tacconi, Linda J.
Using SINFONI, a novel near-infrared imaging spectrometer combined with an adaptive optics system, our SINS survey has discovered rapidly forming and large disk galaxies three billion years after the Big Bang, shedding new light on how galaxies were assembled in the young Universe. more

The blue stars around the supermassive black hole of M31

2006 Bender, Ralf; Saglia, Roberto P.
Hubble Space Telescope observations reveal that the Andromeda galaxy harbours a central supermassive black hole of 140 million solar masses. The new data exclude astrophysical alternatives to a black hole. The black hole is surrounded by a tiny disk of young stars whose origin remains enigmatic. more

More than hot: Sources of cosmic gamma rays

2005 Diehl, Roland
The INTEGRAL Gamma-Ray Observatory has provided novel insight into the nature of sources of high-energy radiation. New embedded sources were discovered, because only the high-energy part of radiation can penetrate clouds. Unexpected emission at high energies where thermal emission usually fades was found for sources with extremely high magnetic fields. Together, this leads to a re-evaluation of the relative contributions of source objects and intrinsically-diffuse emission from interstellar space. Such diffuse emission reflects cosmic radiation penetrating the interstellar gas in the Galaxy. High-resolution spectroscopy of diffuse emission addresses mainly two prominent gamma-ray lines: Antimatter annihilates into electromagnetic radiation with a line at 511 keV, and was found to have a surprisingly symmetric spatial distribution in the inner Galaxy; radiactive 26Al decays in the interstellar medium of the Galaxy, emitting a line at 1809 keV; being a by-product of cosmic element synthesis from terminal evolutionary phases of very massive stars, it was ejected into interstellar space, and thus reveals the kinematics of the interstellar gas in such regions, which are hardly accessible through other means. more

Cluster and Double Star: A fleet of 6 satellites investigating Earth's magnetosphere

2005 Berndt Klecker; Matthias Förster, Edita, Georgescu, Stein Haaland, Arpad Kis, Goetz Paschmann, Manfred Scholer, Hans Vaith
Earth Sciences
With the missions Cluster and Double Star, coordinated measurements in Earth’s magnetosphere with up to 6 spacecraft are now becoming available for the first time. Cluster, with its 4 spacecraft in tetraeder-configuration provides data for variable distances in the range ~100 to 20000 km. These are complimented by the measurements of the Two Double Star spacecraft in polar and equatorial orbit. more

First Results of the Gamma-Ray Mission INTEGRAL

2004 Schönfelder, Volker
INTEGRAL is an ESA space mission to study the sky at hard X-ray and soft gamma-ray energies. Its two main instruments SPI and IBIS cover the energy range 20 keV to 10 MeV, and are mainly devoted to high resolution spectroscopy and fine source imaging, respectively. The observational program started in late December 2002 and concentrated mainly towards the galactic plane, and especially the inner Galaxy. Highlights from the first 15 months of the mission are results on nucleosynthesis and solar flare gamma-ray lines, on a survey of hard X-ray binary sources and their identification, on the origin of the "diffuse" galactic ridge emission, and on gamma-ray bursts. more

Complex Plasmas as Model Systems for Kinetic Investigations

2004 Ivlev, A.V.; Khrapak, S.A.; Fink, M.A.; Morfill, G.E.
Plasma Physics
Progress in the kinetics of complex (dusty) plasmas is highlighted: The phase diagram of complex plasmas is presented, where the classification of different states is based on the momentum transfer rate in mutual (grain-grain) collisions. The role of the momentum transfer to the background medium (neutral gas) is analyzed, and the conditions when complex plasmas can be considered as one-phase fluids are derived. Also, the kinetics of grains with variable charges is studied, and complex plasmas are shown to be natural model systems to study non-Hamiltonian ensembles. Finally, the significance of complex plasmas for interdisciplinary studies is discussed. more

Giant X-Ray Flash: A massive Black Hole disrupts a Star

2004 Komossa, Stefanie
X-ray observatories have detected an energetic outburst of radiation from the nucleus of a galaxy. This is interpreted as the disruption of a star by a very massive Black Hole located at the center of the galaxy. Such an event to occur was predicted by theory since a long time, and its proof is of large interest for different branches of astrophysics. more

Analysis of bone structure for an improved diagnosis of osteoporosis

2004 Räth, Christoph; Bunk, Wolfram; Monetti, Roberto; Morfill, Gregor; Böhm, Holger; Müller, Dirk; Rummeny, Ernst; Majumdar, Sharmila; Newitt, David; Link, Thomas
Complex Systems Medicine
Osteoporosis is the most frequent disease of the skeletal system. It is defined by reduced (mineral) bone density and changes in the microarchitecture of the bone leading to an increased risk of bone fractures. The measurement of the bone mineral density (BMD) is a well established method in the diagnosis of osteoporosis. But since the fracture risk does not only depend on the bone density, this parameter is only of limited use for assessing the fracture risk. Nowadays it is possible to visualize the complex, three-dimensional (trabecular) bone structures using high resolution imaging techniques (CT and MR). If one compares the morphology of the microarchitecture of the bone with the large scale structure of the galaxies in the universe, one can find similarities: In both cases one deals with filaments and wall-like structures, which enclose empty regions ("voids"). An interdisciplinary research project of the MPE in cooperation with the department of radiology of the TU Munich within the framework of the recently initiated TANDEM-projects has been established. In this project new methods for the quantitative description of complex structures, which were originally developed in the field of astrophysics, are applied to the analysis of three-dimensional images of the trabecular bone structure in order to improve the diagnosis of osteoporosis. The results obtained so far show that the newly developed structure measures are very well suited to predict the mechanical strength of bones in human specimen and the risk of fractures in patients. more
Go to Editor View