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.

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


Astronomers use a gravitational lens to find the most distant disk galaxy


The Max Planck scientist shares the $500,000 award with Lars Hernquist


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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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.


Our Milky Way – not a typical spiral galaxy

2020 Fragkoud, Francesca


By examining the Auriga suite of simulations, which model the formation of galaxies from soon after the Big Bang to the present day, scientists at MPA have been able to place constraints on the history of our galaxy. By comparing these simulations to observations of the Milky Way – specifically to the motions of stars in its inner regions — they concluded that our galaxy has been quite isolated in the last 12 billion years, only swallowing small galaxies with less than 5 % of its mass since then.


Reconstruction of reality

2019 Knollmueller, Jakob; Ensslin, Torsten


The Information Field Theory Group at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics has released a new version of the NIFTy software for scientific imaging. NIFTy5 generates an optimal imaging algorithm from the complex probability model of a measured signal. Such algorithms have already proven themselves in a number of astronomical applications and can now be used in other areas as well.


X-ray emission from Warm-Hot Intergalactic Medium

2019 Ildar Khabibullin, Eugene Churazov


At the current epoch, approximately a half of the baryonic matter budget of the Universe is contributed by the Warm-Hot Intergalactic Medium. Being extremely tenuous and highly ionised, this matter is very difficult to observe and stays only poorly studied. Researchers at MPA have shown how it can be explored using X-ray line emission from heavier elements as a tracer. Due to scattering of the cosmic X-ray background, emission of this matter in resonant lines can be boosted strongly and become accessible for the upcoming X-ray missions


Gravitational Wave Messengers from the very early universe

2018 Agrawal, Aniket; Komatsu, Eiichiro

Astronomy Astrophysics

Quantum vacuum fluctuations in spacetime in the very early Universe generate gravitational waves, whose probability distribution is close to a Gaussian. However, they can also be generated by other sources, and carry imprints of the energy content of the early Universe. Scientists at MPA showed that these gravitational waves can be highly non-Gaussian, with a skewness much larger than for those generated by vacuum fluctuations.

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