Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences – and yet also one of the most modern. The Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg is proof of this. The researchers here decipher the mysteries of the universe with high-tech instruments, constructing clever add-ons and detectors for telescopes and satellites which examine the light from cosmic sources according to all the laws of physics. Infant stars and the birth of planetary systems are but two objects of their scientific curiosity. “Is Earth the only inhabited place in the universe?” is one of their burning research questions. The Max Planck astronomers also travel through the depths of space and time, investigating active galaxies and quasars to gain an idea of the beginning and the development of today’s richly structured universe.


Königstuhl 17
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 528-0
Fax: +49 6221 528-246

PhD opportunities

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

IMPRS for Astronomy and Cosmic Physics at the University of Heidelberg

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

Department Planet and Star Formation


Department Galaxies and Cosmology

Galactic conveyor belts feed star formation

Magnetic fields push the formation of stars


A portrait of the first nine Lise Meitner Group Leaders

Exoplanet under the looking glass

New method allows precise determination of exoplanet's spectra and position

As clouds fall apart, a new star is born

New observations reveal the physics behind the formation of a massive star cluster

A cold super-Earth in our neighbourhood

Barnard's star, the closest single star, hosts an exoplanet


How did life on Earth begin? Scientists from the “Heidelberg Initiative for the Origin of Life” have set about answering this truly existential question. Indeed, they are going one step further and examining the conditions under which life can emerge. The initiative was founded by Thomas Henning, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, and brings together researchers from chemistry, physics and the geological and biological sciences.

He loves basketball and literature, but his real passion is cosmology. Joe Hennawi uses telescopes and supercomputers to investigate the largest structures in the universe at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg – in a research group called ENIGMA. Their aim is nothing less than to unravel the mysteries of the cosmic web.

The universe has billions and billions of galaxies, but only one that we can explore star by star in all its dimensions: our Milky Way. It can be thought of as a “model organism” for the formation and evolution of galaxies and is thus a key research topic in cosmology, and the research focus of the team working with Hans-Walter Rix, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. The researchers recently found indications that quite a number of earlier ideas about our galaxy have to be revised.

Magnetic fields spanning 100,000 light-years permeate entire galaxies and envelop their central black holes. Researchers working together with Rainer Beck, Silke Britzen and Sui Ann Mao at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn are teasing the secrets out of these invisible force fields.

Neither Star nor Planet

3/2014 Physics & Astronomy

They are often eclipsed by more attractive topics, like black holes or exoplanets. Even the name itself is less than sensational: brown dwarfs. But Viki Joergens and her colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg have gained fascinating insights in this research field.

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Astronomers witness the birth of a planet

2018 Keppler, M.; Müller, A.

Astronomy Astrophysics

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) and the SPHERE instrument consortium at the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have discovered and characterised an extremely young exoplanet in a state of its formation. This gas giant with the designation PDS 70 b, with a mass equivalent to several Jupiters, was detected orbiting the star PDS 70 within a gap of its protoplanetary disk. This means that PDS 70 b is still in the vicinity of its birth place and likely still accumulating material.


Migration of stars

2018 Bergemann, Maria

Astronomy Astrophysics

Astronomers, led by Maria Bergemann from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, have investigated a small population of stars in the halo of the Milky Way Galaxy, finding its chemical composition to closely match that of the Galactic disk. This similarity provides compelling evidence that these stars have originated from within the disk, rather than from merged dwarf galaxies. The reason for this stellar migration is thought to be theoretically proposed oscillations of the Milky Way disk as a whole, induced by the tidal interaction of the Milky Way with a passing massive satellite galaxy.


Bringing the building blocks of life down to Earth, from space

2017 Dmitry Semenov; Thomas K. Henning

Astronomy Astrophysics

Astronomers from McMaster University and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have completed calculations that lead to a consistent scenario for the emergence of life on Earth, based on astronomical, geological, chemical and biological models. In this scenario, life forms a mere few hundred million years after Earth’s surface was cool enough for liquid water; the essential building blocks for life were formed in space during the formation of the solar system, and delivered to warm little ponds on Earth by meteorites.


Ripples in Cosmic Web Measured Using Rare Double Quasars

2017 Rorai, Alberto; Hennawi, Joseph F.; Onorbe, José

Astronomy Astrophysics

Astronomers believe that matter in intergalactic space is distributed in a vast network of interconnected filamentary structures – the cosmic web. Nearly all the atoms in the Universe reside in this web, left over from the Big Bang. A team led by a team of the MPI for Astronomy has made the first measurements of small-scale fluctuations in the cosmic web just 2 billion years after the Big Bang. These measurements were enabled by a novel technique using pairs of quasars to probe the cosmic web along adjacent lines of sight. They promise to help astronomers reconstruct the epoch of reionization.


Gigantic X-shaped structure throws (infrared) light on galactic history

2016 Ness, Melissa; Lang, Dustin

Astronomy Astrophysics

Two astronomers have produced the first direct images of a gigantic X-shaped distribution of stars in the center of the Milky Way. The collaboration began when Dustin Lang (University of Toronto) tweeted an image he had recently created. From the tweet, Melissa Ness (MPIA) recognized the image's significance for reconstructing the history of our home galaxy. The X-shaped distribution indicates that the bulge of stars surrounding the center of the galactic disk was formed through dynamical interactions of stars, not by the merger of smaller galaxies with our own.

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