Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics

Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics

The scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching work mainly on theory. A core area is the numerical simulation of astrophysical systems with high-performance and ultra-high performance computers. The research on star formation and hydrodynamic phenomena – such as colliding stars, supernova explosions or matter in accretion disks around black holes – is complemented by studies of structure formation in the Universe as a further key research field. The astrophysicists use computer simulations to model how galaxies and stars formed from primordial matter: how everything grew out of nothing. In addition, the researchers develop algorithms to analyse the vast amounts of data produced in ever-larger simulations and satellite missions.


Karl-Schwarzschild-Str. 1
85748 Garching
Phone: +49 89 30000-0
Fax: +49 89 30000-2235

PhD opportunities

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

IMPRS on Astrophysics

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

Glowing red swirling solar surface with gas ejections against a black background

A thought experiment investigates what would happen if a tiny primordial black hole were to sit at the center of the sun


The James Webb Telescope reveals extremely distant objects


Computer simulations show that binary stars produce a large amount of this vital element


Asifa Akhtar and Volker Springel are honoured with the 2021 Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation


Computer simulation reveals similar structures for large and small dark matter halos

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Supernovae portend cosmic catastrophes. When a massive star slides into an energy crisis at the end of its life, or a sun that has already died is overfed with matter, the end is an explosion of unimaginable proportions. What exactly happens here? Hans-Thomas Janka from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching wants to get down to the nuts and bolts. He simulates supernovae on the computer and makes them explode in the virtual world – meanwhile even in three dimensions.

Gravitational waves are some of the most spectacular predictions of the 1915 general theory of relativity. However, it wasn’t until half a century later that physicist Joseph Weber attempted to track them down. In the early 1970s, Max Planck scientists also began working in this research field, and developed second-generation detectors. The groundwork laid by these pioneers meant the waves in space-time ceased to be just figments of the imagination: in September 2015 they were finally detected.

They are some of the most exotic objects in space: neutron stars. Incredibly dense and only 20 kilometers across, they rotate about their axes at breakneck speed, emitting cones of radiation out into space in the process. Some of these cosmic beacons have particularly strong magnetic fields. Michael Gabler from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching studies these magnetars – and so learns a thing or two about their nature.

It is a superlative brain, and has a somewhat boastful name to reflect this: SuperMuc. “Muc” refers to Munich, which isn’t entirely correct, with the more than 100-ton computer being located outside the city limits of the Bavarian capital – in a 500-square-meter hall of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre on the campus in Garching.

Albert Einstein predicted them, modern giant telescopes detected them: gravitational lenses. Today, researchers simulate them on the computer.

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Reflected quasar light powers giant cool gas nebulae 

2022 Costa, Tiago; Arrigoni Battaia, Fabrizio 

Astronomy Astrophysics

Recent observations have revealed that the first quasars are often surrounded by bright, giant nebulae. These span up to several 100,000 light years, about ten times larger than the quasar host galaxy. According to new detailed computer simulations of galaxy evolution performed at MPA, the observed extended nebulae can be explained as quasar light that reflects off surrounding cool neutral hydrogen clouds. Crucially, this mechanism only works if the energy provided by the quasar is able to produce gigantic galactic winds that blow out large masses of gas from its immediate vicinity. 


In 2020, a tantalizing hint of new physics violating “parity symmetry” was found in polarization data of the cosmic microwave background obtained with the Planck satellite at high frequencies. Based on the Planck data and a simplified assumption about the impact of the polarized dust emission in the Milky Way, the scientists reported a violation of the symmetry of the laws of physics under inversion of spatial coordinates with 99.2% confidence level. 


Galaxy formation meets Reionization in the THESAN simulations 

2021 Garaldi, Enrico

Astronomy Astrophysics

13 billion years ago, the radiation of the first galaxies transformed the Universe, ionizing the hydrogen between galaxies in a process called cosmic reionization. Despite their intimate connection, the formation of the first galaxies and the reionization process are typically studied separately. A team led by an MPA researcher has now produced the first suite of simulations that simultaneously capture these processes, as well as their connection, called THESAN.


The formation of intermediate mass black holes 

2021 Rizzuto, Francesco; Naab, Thorsten

Astronomy Astrophysics

Intermediate-mass black holes (IMBH) should be linking stellar black holes and supermassive black holes, but their formation mechanisms are uncertain. Young massive star clusters (SCs) are promising environments for the formation of such objects. An international team led by MPA researchers, has realized realistic simulations of SCs, where these missing links form by stars - black holes mergers.


How black holes power galactic super-winds

2020 Tiago Costa


When gas falls into a supermassive black hole, it liberates amounts of energy so vast as to be capable of ejecting much of a galaxy’s gaseous reservoir. Such black holes may thus cause the end of their own growth and that of their host galaxies. A new model developed at MPA now makes it possible to simulate winds accelerated by accreting black holes in galaxy evolution simulations in a physically accurate and validated way. By blowing dense gas from galactic nuclei, and by halting inward flows from the galactic halo, winds play a vital role in shaping the galaxy evolution.

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