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 for Astrophysics

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

Gravitational waves from merging neutron stars
This cosmic event was also observed in visible light and provides an explanation for gamma-ray bursts more
Neutrinos as drivers of supernovae
Radioactive elements in gaseous supernova remnant Cassiopeia A provide glimpses into the explosion of massive stars more
Shedding light on the cosmic web
Astronomers use the light of double quasars to measure the structure of the universe 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
Planck reveals late birth of first stars
Cosmic satellite delivers detailed maps of cosmic microwave background more
Gamma bubbles of the Milky Way

Gamma bubbles of the Milky Way

News February 03, 2015
A new method for imaging unravels certain secrets of the galactic anatomy more
Looking into the heart of a stellar explosion
Max Planck researchers observe gamma-ray lines from a type Ia supernova more
The first building blocks of the universe
Two German-Chinese Partner Groups at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching are using observations and simulations to investigate how the early universe evolved more
Expert communities consider the online series Living Reviews as their first port of call for information more
Ten ERC Advanced Grants for Max Planck scientists
Fifty applications for funding successful in Seventh EU Framework Programme more
Planck reveals an almost perfect Universe
Planck measures the Universe - detailed all-sky map of the cosmic background radiation confirms standard cosmological model but also finds deviations more
New Max Planck Princeton Partnership in fusion research
The Max Planck Society is strengthening its commitment to the development of a sustainable energy supply and has joined forces with internationally renowned Princeton University to establish the Max Planck Princeton Research Center for Plasma Physics. more
How globular star clusters survive collisions
Simulations shed new light onto the turbulent birth of objects approx. 13 billion years ago more
The magnetic field pattern of the Milky Way
New all-sky map shows complex structure of magnetic fields in unprecedented detail more
Biography of a star

Biography of a star

News November 02, 2011
The universe is full of natural fusion reactors more
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.

Stars with Great Attraction

1/2015 Physics & Astronomy
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.
Black holes were long considered to be cosmic curiosities. But at the centers of galaxies, they play an important role.
Gamma-ray bursts bear witness to the most powerful explosions in our universe. At a congress in Schloss Ringberg, astrophysicists discussed just what might be behind these intense eruptions.
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Predicting the Sunyaev-Zeldovich signal from cosmological, hydro-dynamical simulations

2017 Dolag, Klaus; Komatsu, Eiichiro; Sunyaev, Rashid
Astronomy Astrophysics
Using recent, extensive cosmological simulations, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have shown that the expected signal from the Sunyaev-Zeldovich (SZ) effect of galaxy clusters on the Cosmic Microwave Background agrees remarkably well with observations by the Planck satellite. However, only a small fraction of this predicted signal is currently observable. The scientists developed a simple analytical model to understand the SZ probability distribution function, which is also helpful in interpreting the observed distribution of galaxy clusters masses. more

The DRAGON globular cluster simulations: a million stars, black holes and gravitational waves

2017 Naab, Thorsten; Spurzem, Reiner; Wang, Long für die DRAGON collaboration
Astronomy Astrophysics
An international team of experts from Europe and China has performed the first simulations of globular clusters with a million stars on the high-performance GPU cluster of the Max Planck Computing and Data Facility. These – up to now – largest and most realistic simulations can reproduce observed properties of stars in globular clusters at unprecedented detail and shed light into the dark world of black holes. The computer models deliver high quality synthetic data and predict nuclear clusters of single and binary black holes. more

Computer simulations confirm supernova mechanism in three dimensions

2016 Melson, Tobias; Janka, Hans-Thomas
Astronomy Astrophysics
Latest three-dimensional computer simulations are closing in on the solution of an decades-old problem: how do massive stars die in gigantic supernova explosions? Since the mid-1960s, astronomers thought that neutrinos, elementary particles that are radiated in huge numbers by the newly formed neutron star, could be the ones to energize the blast wave that disrupts the star. However, only now the power of modern supercomputers has made it possible to actually demonstrate the viability of this neutrino-driven mechanism. more

Understanding X-ray emission from galaxies and galaxy clusters

2016 Anderson, Michael E.; Gaspari, Massimo; White, Simon D. M.; Wang, Wenting; Dai, Xinyu
Astronomy Astrophysics
By combining data for more than 250,000 individual objects, an MPA-based team has for the first time been able to measure X-ray emission in a uniform manner for objects with masses ranging from that of the Milky Way up to that of rich galaxy clusters. The results are surprisingly simple and give insight into how ordinary matter is distributed in today's universe, and how this distribution has been affected by energy input from galactic nuclei. more

A new neutrino-emission asymmetry in forming neutron stars

2015 Janka, Hans-Thomas
Astronomy Astrophysics
Neutron stars are born as extremely hot and dense objects at the centers of massive stars exploding as supernovae. They cool by intense emission of neutrinos. Three-dimensional supercomputer simulations at the very forefront of current modelling efforts reveal the stunning and unexpected possibility that this neutrino emission can develop a hemispheric (dipolar) asymmetry. If this new neutrino-hydrodynamical instability happens in nature, it will lead to a recoil acceleration of the neutron star and will have important consequences for the formation of chemical elements in stellar explosions. more

A new standard ruler: Measuring angular diameter distances using time-delay strong lenses

2015 Jee, Inh; Komatsu, Eiichiro, Suyu, Sherry (ASIAA)
Astronomy Astrophysics
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics propose a crucially improved distance measurement. They use a strong gravitational lens system with a time-varying source (e. g. a quasar) to measure the angular diameter distance to the lens. more

Astroseimology of magnetars

2014 Gabler, Michael; Müller, Ewald; Cerdá-Durán, Pablo; Font, Antonio; Stergioulas, Nikolaos
Astronomy Astrophysics
Seismic vibrations on Earth contain information about the structure of our planet, seismic vibrations on distant stellar remnants could shed light not only on the star itself but also on the basic constituents of all matter. The objects under study: neutron stars with strong magnetic fields. The method: a new model that combines both the elastic shear vibrations of the crust and pulsations caused by the magnetic field. Current X-ray observations can only be explained by the coupled vibrations and the model even predicts how high-energy radiation is modulated by these oscillations. more

Metals in galaxies: Is what we see what we expect?

2014 Yates, Robert; Kauffmann, Guinevere
Astronomy Astrophysics
For decades, theorists have been faced with a problem: How can we explain the diverse chemical properties seen in different types of galaxies in the nearby Universe? Now, an international team of astrophysicists, led by members of the MPA, have found a single, self-consistent model that can indeed simultaneously reconcile these chemical properties. This model follows the standard hierarchical merging scenario of structure formation, and therefore shows that − at least in this respect − what we see in our Universe is what we expect. more

Cosmic vibrations from neutron stars

2013 Bauswein, Andreas
In the collision of neutron stars, the extremely compact remnants of evolved and collapsed stars, two light stars merge to one massive star. The newly-born heavyweight vibrates, sending out characteristic waves in space-time. Model calculations at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics now show how such signals can be used to determine the size of neutron stars and how we can learn more about the interior of these exotic objects. more

First light for the Millennium Run Observatory

2013 Overzier, Roderik; Lemson, Gerard
The famous Millennium Run (MR) simulations now appear in a completely new light: The Millennium Run Observatory (MRObs) project combines detailed predictions from cosmological simulations with a virtual observatory in order to produce synthetic astronomical observations. These virtual observations allow theorists and observers to analyse the purely theoretical data in exactly the same way as they would purely observational data. The team expects that the advantages offered by this approach will lead to a richer collaboration between theoretical and observational astronomers. more

Curious, these inflated hot Jupiters

2012 Spruit, Henk C.; Martin, Eduardo L.
Astronomers have so far found more than five hundred "exoplanets", i. e. planets orbiting other stars. A group of these are large planets with orbits very close to their host stars, the so-called "hot Jupiters". Their mass is similar to our Jupiter but they are often much bigger, indicating that their interior is much hotter. Left to themselves, they should cool down and deflate fairly rapidly to a size similar to the Jupiter in our solar system. more

The Lambda CDM model of cosmological structure formation has very successfully matched many observational aspects of the Universe. However, the nature of the main ingredient of this model, the so-called Dark Energy, is currently still a mystery. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have recently performed the largest ever computer simulation of cosmic structure formation. Combined with new observational campaigns, this might help to constrain the properties of the Dark Energy and solve one of the most important puzzles in modern cosmology.


The History of the Milky Way

2011 Schönrich, Ralph
New models developed at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) change our paradigms about the physics and evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy. Scientists at the MPA determine the parameters of about 16000 stars in the solar neighbourhood. The data confirms predictions of a model developed at the institute and provide insight into the physics of galactic discs, into the history of our Galaxy and the provenance of our Sun. more
The "Planck Surveyor" satellite mission to study the Big Bang, 14 billion years ago, via measuring the cosmic microwave background has produced impressive results during its first year of operation: a catalogue with 15,000 celestial objects, 25 scientific papers, as well as the most precise measurement of the far infrared background, revealing star formation in the early universe. The Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics developed software components for Planck and is heavily involved in the scientific interpretation of the mission data. more
Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics and the Cluster of Excellence "Universe" at the TU Munich show by detailed computer simulations how the interaction of neutrinos may cause supernova explosions of stars with 11 to 15 solar masses. more
A team of astronomers, including members of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, have combined the observational power provided by the Hubble Space Telescope with the predictive power of the Millennium Run cosmological simulations to investigate an intriguing cosmic puzzle. If luminous quasars in the early Universe mark the regions that were the first to collapse and form massive clusters of galaxies as predicted by theory, then why is the observational evidence for such cosmic "cities-under-construction" currently so scarce? more

A close look at solar granulation

2009 Kupka, Friedrich; Zaussinger, Florian
How would the surface of our Sun look like, if we had telescopes which have a resolution ten times that one of present instruments? Would the Sun look any different further inside? In an international collaboration scientists at the University of Vienna, and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have used numerical simulations on high performance computers to answer these questions. They found a highly turbulent flow showing ever more details hidden underneath the smooth looking surface which we know from images of our Sun in visual light. more

Supercomputer predicts local dark matter distribution

2009 Vogelsberger, Mark; Springel, Volker; White, Simon
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) have carried out the largest simulation thus far of the formation of a Milky Way-like dark matter halo. This allowed the first detailed theoretical predictions of the dark matter distribution in the vicinity of the Earth. more

Cosmological hydrogen recombination lines from redshifts z~1400

2008 Sunyaev, Rashid; Chluba, Jens
Scientists at Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) have performed detailed computations of the highly redshifted radiation that is released during the epoch of cosmological hydrogen recombination. Progress in the development of radio detectors may render these small deviations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) spectrum from a perfect blackbody observable, thereby offering a complementary way to measure the exact value of the CMB temperature, the entropy of the Universe, and to provide direct evidence about how our Universe became transparent. more

Supplying simulation data to the world

2008 Lemson, Gerard; White, Simon
Three years since its completion, the Millennium Run remains the largest simulation of cosmological structure formation. Over 100 papers [1] have been written based on its numerical data. More than half of these are by authors who have accessed the data through a web service of the German Astrophysical Virtual Observatory (GAVO). This is the most complete application yet of Virtual Observatory techniques to the publication of theoretical data. more

The Supernovae that made the Crab Nebulae

2007 Kitaura, Francesco; Janka, Hans-Thomas; Buras, Robert;
A team of X-ray astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics resolved the thirty-years-old puzzle of the origin of the Galactic X-ray background emission. Combining data from various space-based X-ray instruments (RXTE/PCA, INTEGRAL/IBIS, CHANDRA/ACIS, ROSAT/PSPC) and infrared instruments (COBE/DIRBE) they showed that the Galactic X-ray background predominantly consists of emission of a large number of point sources, mostly cataclysmic variables and coronally active stars. more

Nature of the Galactic X-ray background

2007 Revnivtsev, Mikhail; Sazonov, Sergey; Krivonos, Roman; Chluba, Jens
A team of X-ray astronomers resolved the thirty-years-old puzzle of the origin of the Galactic X-ray background emission. Combining data from various space-based X-ray instruments (RXTE/PCA, INTEGRAL/IBIS, CHANDRA/ACIS, ROSAT/PSPC) and infrared instruments (COBE/DIRBE) they showed that the Galactic X-ray background predominantly consists of emission of a large number of point sources, mostly cataclysmic variables and coronally active stars. more

Origin of cosmic X-rays from Milky Way disk

2006 Sazonov, Sergey; Revnivtsev, Mike
Abstract In order to solve the puzzle of the origin of the Galactic ridge X-ray mission (GXRE), its spatial distribution was studied in detail with the RXTE observatory. The obtained X-ray map is very similar to the near-infrared map of the Galactic disk and bulge, which implies that the GRXE closely traces the stellar population of the Galaxy. In the second part of this study RXTE and ROSAT observations were used to evaluate the total volume emissivity of faint X-ray sources in the Solar neighborhood. Based on this estimate it was shown that the bulk of the GRXE is likely a superposition of emission from thousands of cataclysmic variables and millions of coronally active stars. more

The growth of supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies

2006 Kauffmann, Guinevere und von der Linden, Anja
Abstract Using a catalog of more than 80000 galaxies with active nuclei, drawn from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a team from the MPI for Astrophysics and from Johns Hopkins University has studied the connection between the growth of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies and of their host galaxies. Most of the black hole growth today is occurring in relatively low-mass black holes (comparable to the one in the center of our Milky Way), whereas the main epoch of growth of the most massive black holes dates back much earlier. They also find that those galaxies in which the central black hole is currently growing have recently formed stars -- a fact that highlights how the mass of the black hole is tightly linked with the stellar mass of its host. more

Short Gamma-Ray Bursts - New Models Shed Light on Enigmatic Explosions

2005 Janka, Hans-Thomas, Aloy, Miguel, Mueller Ewald
Researchers at the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics have developed new relativistic models which allow predictions of so far unknown properties of short gamma-ray bursts. Their simulations will come under scrutiny by the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer, a NASA mission that was launched on November 20, 2004. more
Scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics have carried out the worldwide largest cosmological simulation of structure formation and used it to make accurate theoretical predictions for the growth of galaxies and supermassive black holes. For the first time, the model allows a detailed comparison of the theory of hierarchical galaxy formation to observations in a volume comparable to that of the largest spectroscopic redshift surveys, including rare objects such as the first quasars or massive galaxy clusters. more

Neutron Stars as kosmic cannonballs

2004 Janka, Hans-Thomas; Kifonidis, Konstantinos; Müller, Ewald; Scheck, Leonhard; Plewa, Tomek
Scientists at the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics in Garching and the University of Chicago have substantiated an explanation for the high space velocities of observed pulsars. Their computer models confirm the likely connection with asymmetries during supernova explosions. more

Annihilation of dark matter in the halo of the Milky Way

2004 Stoehr, Felix; Springel, Volker
If the dark matter in the universe consists of weakly interacting elementary particles that can annihilate each other, it should be possible to detect their annihilation radiation directly. High-resolution cosmological simulations of the distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way can be used to make detailed predictions for the expected annihilation radiation from the galactic center and the satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. If the dark matter particles are neutralinos, these predictions imply favourable detection possibilities for next generation gamma ray telescopes. more
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