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

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

Massive stellar embryos undergo episodic growth

A spiral structure in the disk around a young heavyweight star suggests that gas is supplied in separate packets

The cosmic commute towards star and planet formation

Interconnected gas flows reveal how star-forming gas is assembled in galaxies

Betelgeuse – a giant with blemishes

Gigantic star spots are probably the reason for the recent drop in brightness of the red giant star

<span>From dust to, possibly, life: New experiments show complex astrochemistry on thin ice covering dust grains</span>

New experiments show complex astrochemistry on thin ice covering dust grains

Disk galaxies grow up so fast

New observations show that massive systems formed exceptionally early in cosmic history


The European space observatory Gaia has surveyed approximately two billion stars with unprecedented precision – a treasure trove of data that has already changed our view of the Milky Way. Coryn Bailer-Jones from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg has been involved in the project since its inception. He compiled one section of the star catalog and, among other things, searched it for stars that have approached close to our solar system, or will do so in the future.

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.

Postdoctoral position in Astronomy Education Research (AER)

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg July 29, 2020

Galactic conveyor belts feed star formation

2019 Dr. Juan Diego Soler

Astronomy Astrophysics

The role of magnetic fields in the formation of stars has been a hot topic among astrophysicists for decades. Now Juan Diego Soler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) has shown that magnetic fields can favour and advance the compression of interstellar matter – a prerequisite for the formation of stars. This conclusion is based on the finding that in star forming regions the interstellar matter, depending on its density, is sometimes oriented parallel to, sometimes rather perpendicular to, the magnetic field lines.


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.

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