Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

The Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics is a Max Planck Institute, located in Garching, near Munich, Germany. In 1991 the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics split up into the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, the Max Planck Institute for Physics and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics. The Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics was founded as sub-institute in 1963. The scientific activities of the institute are mostly devoted to astrophysics with telescopes orbiting in space. A large amount of the resources are spent for studying black holes in the galaxy and in the remote universe.


The Max-Planck-Institute for extraterrestrial physics (MPE) was preceded by the department for extraterrestrial physics in the Max-Planck-Institute for physics and astrophysics. This department was established by Professor Reimar Lüst on October 23, 1961. A Max-Planck Senate resolution transformed this department into a sub-institute of the Max-Planck-Institute for Physics and Astrophysics on May 15, 1963. Professor Lüst was appointed director of the Institute. Another Senate resolution on March 8, 1991 finally established MPE as an autonomous institute within the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. It is dedicated to the experimental and theoretical exploration of the space outside of earth as well as astrophysical phenomena.[1]


  • 1961 Working group Lüst
  • 1963 Foundation as a sub-institute within the MPI für Physik und Astrophysik. Director R. Lüst. Institute moves to Garching
  • 1966 K. Pinkau scientific member (cosmic rays, gamma-astronomy)
  • 1969 K. Pinkau director at the institute; G. Haerendel scientific member (plasma physics)
  • 1972 G. Haerendel director at the institute; R. Lüst elected president of the MPG and on leave; K. Pinkau acting director
  • 1975 J. Trümper scientific member and director at the institute (X-ray astronomy)
  • 1981 Founded by J. Trümper, the MPE X-ray test facility "Panter" located in Neuried starts operation
  • 1981 K. Pinkau on leave; Gamma-astronomy carried on by V. Schönfelder
  • 1985 G. Morfill scientific member and director at the institute (theory)
  • 1986 R. Genzel scientific member and director at the institute (infrared astronomy)
  • 1991 Transformation of the MPI für extraterrestrische Physik into an autonomous institute
  • 1992 J. Trümper together with the MPI für Physik (MPP) founds the semiconductor laboratory as a joint project between the MPE and the MPP
  • 1998 September : Start of construction work for the expansion building
  • 2000 R. Genzel together with the University of California Berkeley founds the "UCB-MPG Center for International Exchange in Astrophysics and Space Science"
  • 2000 G. Morfill together with the IPP founds the "Center for Interdisciplinary Plasma Science" (CIPS)
  • 2000 December : official opening of the expansion building
  • 2001 The "International Max-Planck- Research School on Astrophysics" (IMPRS) is opened by MPE, MPA, ESO, MPP and the universities of Munich
  • 2001 J. Trümper retires; G. Haerendel retires and joins the International University Bremen as vice president G. Hasinger scientific member and director at the institute (X-ray astronomy)
  • 2002 R. Bender scientific member and director at the institute (optical and interpretative astronomy)
  • 2003 40 Years MPE
  • 2004 At the end of the year the "Center for Interdisciplinary Plasma Science" (CIPS) is terminated.
  • 2008 G. Hasinger leaves MPE and becomes scientific director at the IPP. The former independent X-ray and Gamma-ray departments are merged into the new high-energy astrophysics department.
  • 2010 Kirpal Nandra appointed as new Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and head of the high-energy astrophysics department.[2]

Detailed history

Professor Klaus Pinkau (1966) and Dr. Gerhard Haerendel (1969) were appointed scientific members at MPE. K. Pinkau then became the director at MPE in 1969. Since 1972 the directorship of the Institute was shared by its directors. In the same year, Professor Lüst was elected President of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and thus relieved of his duties as director of MPE. Professor Joachim Trümper (X-ray astronomy) accepted an appointment as a scientific member and director of the Institute in 1975. In 1981 Professor Pinkau accepted an appointment as scientific director of the Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP), and was subsequently relieved of his duties at MPE. In 1984 and 1986 Professor Gregor Morfill (theory) and Professor Reinhard Genzel (infrared- and submillimeter-astronomy) were appointed scientific members and directors of the Institute. The directorial positions at MPE attained their current status with the appointment of Professor Günther Hasinger (X-ray astronomy) and Professor Ralf Bender (optical and interpretative astronomy) in the years 2001 and 2002.

Among the 29 employees of the Institute when it was founded in 1963 there were 9 scientists and 1 PhD. student. Twelve years later, in 1975, the number of employees had increased to 180 with 55 scientists and 13 PhD. students. New permanent positions at the institute were established for the last time in 1973. Despite celebrated scientific achievements resulting from research at the Institute, permanent positions have been reduced in recent years. In the last twenty years the Institute has coped with increasingly complex tasks and international obligations almost exclusively with positions having limited duration and funded by organizations outside the Institute. In 2003 the number of employees at the Institute had reached 267, of whom 52 were scientists and 53 post-docs. In addition, there were 94 employees without permanent positions (84 of them were scientists). Because the Institute has assumed a leading position internationally, it has attracted guest scientists throughout the world. The number of long-term guests increased from 12 in 1974 to a maximum of 72 in 2000; in 2003 there were 30 of them. In recent years MPE has hosted an average of about 50 guest scientists each year.

During the early years the scientific work at the Institute concentrated on the investigation of extraterrestrial plasmas and the magnetosphere of the earth. This work was performed with measurements of particles and electromagnetic fields as well as a specially developed ion-cloud technique using sounding rockets.

Another field of research called astrophysical observations of electromagnetic radiation, which could not be observed from the surface of the earth because the wavelengths are such that the radiation is absorbed by the earth's atmosphere, also became important. These observations and inferences are the subject matter of infrared astronomy as well as X-ray- and gamma-ray-astronomy. In addition to more than 100 rockets, an increasing number of high-altitude balloons (up to now more than 50; e.g. HEXE) have been used to carry out experiments at high altitudes.

A strong experiment-oriented theory group exists at the MPE, so that the observations and measurements from the many successful experiments can quickly and effectively be evaluated. The intimate interaction between theory and observation at the Institute promotes swift acquisition and transformation of new knowledge, and this leads to improved proposals for more experiments and observations. The theory division of the institute covers all the research topics. Especially the results in the area of "analysis of complex systems" are divided into applications in medicine (early diagnostics of skin cancer, tumours, prenatal surveillance), engineering (manufacturing processes and quality control), and pharmacology (drug testing and design).

New observation techniques using satellites has necessitated the recording, processing and accessible storage of high data fluxes over long periods of time. This demanding task is performed by a data processing group, which has grown quickly in the last decade. Special data centers were established for the large satellite projects, in particular ROSAT.

Beside the many successes, there have also been disappointments. The malfunctioning of the Ariane carrier rockets on test launches in 1980 and 1996 were particularly bitter setbacks. The satellite "Firewheel", in which many members of the Institute had invested years of work, was lost on May 23, 1980 because of a burning instability in the first stage of the launch rocket. The same fate was to overtake the four satellites of the CLUSTER-Mission on June 4, 1996 when the first Ariane 5 was launched. This time the disaster was attributed to an error in the rocket's software. The most recent loss was ABRIXAS, an X-ray satellite built under the leadership of MPE. After a few hours in orbit, a malfunction of the power system caused the total loss of the satellite.[1]

Selected achievements

  • Exploration of the Ionosphere and Magnetosphere by means of ion clouds (1963–1985)
  • The first map of the galactic gamma-ray emission ( > 70 MeV) as measured with the satellite COS-B (1978)
  • Measurement of the magnetic field of the neutron star Her-X1 using the cyclotron line emission (balloon experiment 1979)
  • Experimental proof of the reconnection process (1979)
  • The artificial comet (AMPTE 1984/85)
  • Numerical simulation of a collision-free shock wave (1990)
  • The first map of the X-ray sky as measured with the imaging X-ray telescope on board the ROSAT satellite (1993)
  • The gamma-ray sky map in the energy range 3 to 10 MeV as measured with the imaging Compton telescope COMPTEL on board CGRO (1994)
  • The plasma-crystal experiment (1996)
  • The measurement of the element- and isotope-composition of the solar wind by the CELIAS experiment on board the SOHO satellite (1996)
  • The first detection of water-molecule lines in an expanding shell of a star using the Fabry-Perot spectrometer on board the ISO satellite (1996)
  • First detection of X-ray emission from comets (1996)
  • Detection of gamma-ray line emission (44Ti) from supernova remnants (1998)
  • First images in X-rays from planets (Mars, Venus) (2001)
  • Confirmation of the existence of a supermassive Black Hole in the center of the Galaxy (2002)[1]

Scientific work

File:MICADO agreement signed.jpg
Agreement Signed for MICADO Camera for E-ELT.[3]

The institute was founded in 1963 as a sub-institute of the Max-Planck-Institut für Physik und Astrophysik and established as an independent institute in 1991. Its main research topics are astronomical observations in spectral regions which are only accessible from space because of the absorbing effects of the Earth's atmosphere, but also instruments on ground based observatories are used whenever possible. Scientific work is done in four major research areas that are supervised by one of the directors, respectively: optical and interpretative astronomy (Bender), infrared and sub-millimeter/millimeter astronomy (Genzel), high-energy astrophysics (Nandra), and theory, whereby this group also engages in experimental investigations of complex plasmas (Morfill). Within these areas scientists lead individual experiments and research projects organised in about 25 project teams. The research topics range from the physics of cosmic plasmas and of stars to the physics and chemistry of interstellar matter, from star formation and nucleosynthesis to extragalactic astrophysics and cosmology.

Many experiments of the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik (MPE) have to be carried out above the dense Earth's atmosphere using aircraft, rockets, satellites and space probes. In the early days experiments were also flown on balloons. Data-based analysis, investigation of fundamental physical processes, and the development of new methods is most relevant to the theoretical work. To run advanced extraterrestrial physics and state-of-the-art experimental astrophysics, the institute continues to develop high-tech instrumentation in-house. This includes detectors, spectrometers, and cameras as well as telescopes and complete payloads (e.g. ROSAT and ABRIXAS) and even entire satellites (as in case of AMPTE and EQUATOR-S). For this purpose the technical and engineering departments are of particular importance for the institute's research work.

The theory division of the institute covers all the research topics. Especially the results in the area of "analysis of complex systems" are developed into applications in medicine (early diagnostics of skin cancer, tumours, prenatal surveillance), engineering (manufacturing processes and quality control), and pharmacology (drug testing and design).

Observers and experimenters perform their research work at the institute in close contact with each other. Their interaction while interpreting observations and propounding new hypotheses underlies the successful progress of the institute's research projects.

At the end of the year 2009 a total of 487 employees were working at the institute, numbering among them 75 scientist, 95 junior scientists (45 IMPRS PhD students included), 97 externally funded positions and 64 visiting scientists and interns.

The MPE is also active in scientific and vocational training. At the end of 2009 6 students were working on their diploma thesis and 9 apprentices worked in the administration (1) and the institute's workshop (8).[4]


Scientific projects at the MPE are often the efforts of the different research departments to build, maintain, and use experiments and facilities which are needed by the many different scientific research interest at the institute. Apart from hardware projects, there are also projects that use archival data and are not necessarily connected to a new instrument. The following list is not complete, but it is updated regularly.[5]

Active projects

  • ACE
  • Chandra
  • Fermi (GLAST)
  • Herschel (FIRST)
  • LBT
  • Plasma Kristall
  • Rosetta
  • SOHO
  • Swift
  • XMM-Newton

Past projects

  • Abrixas
  • ALFA
  • Azur
  • Compton GRO
  • Cos B
  • Equator-S
  • Firewheel
  • Helios
  • HEXE
  • ISO
  • MEGA
  • Mir-HEXE
  • SMM
  • Stardust
  • Ulysses

Future projects

Under construction:

  • KMOS

Proposed projects:

  • Athena


In the past decades, several scientists at the MPE received international awards for their discoveries and work.[6] The following list contains selected awards; it is updated regularly.

Honorary doctorate for Reinhard Genzel

On 8 February 2010, the oldest Dutch university in Leiden bestowed an honorary doctorate on Reinhard Genzel, astrophysicist and director at the MPE, for "his ground-breaking research into interstellar matter and the central regions of galaxies, in particular the evidence for a black hole at the centre of our own galaxy, and his drive to get the required innovative infrared instrumentation developed". The ceremony took place in the framework of the "Lustrum Dies Natalis 2010" celebration, commemorating the university's foundation in February 1575.[7]

Jean Dominique Cassini Medal for Gerhard Haerendel

The European Geosciences Union EGU honoured Prof. Gerhard Haerendel by awarding him the Jean Dominique Cassini Medal during the General Assembly from 2 to 7 May 2010 in Vienna, Austria. The award recognizes Haerendel's "indispensable and prominent role in the European exploration of space". The former director at the MPE also became an Honorary Member of the EGU.[8]

Yasuo Tanaka honoured as "Person of Cultural Merit"

A very high Japanese accolade went to Dr. Yasuo Tanaka, scientific member at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who was chosen together with 16 other people for this prestigious award. The high-energy astrophysicist is not only a distinguished member of the global scientific community; he also actively promotes the academic exchange between Japan and foreign countries.[9]

Karl Schwarzschild Medal 2011 for Reinhard Genzel

The highest honour for astronomical research in Germany, the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society (AG), was awarded to the astrophysicist Reinhard Genzel, director at the MPE. The AG bestows the award to a researcher who made a discovery with wide-reaching consequences. Genzel and teams were able to provide evidence that the centre of our Milky Way harbours a Black Hole. This Black Hole in the galactic centre is the best empirical evidence for the existence of these exotic objects that are postulated in Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.[10]

James-Maxwell-Prize for Gregor Morfill

The James Clerk Maxwell Prize in Plasma Physics 2011 was awarded to Professor Gregor Morfill, director at the MPE. With the award, the American Physical Society (APS) recognizes Morfill's pioneering and seminal contributions to the field of dusty plasmas. The bestowal of the award took place at the annual meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics in Salt Lake City in November 2011.[11]

Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2012 for Reinhard Genzel

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on January 19, 2012, that the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2012 will be jointly awarded to Reinhard Genzel from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, and Andrea Ghez from the University of California, Los Angeles, USA "for their observations of the stars orbiting the galactic centre, indicating the presence of a supermassive black hole".[12]

Academy Professor Prize for Ewine van Dishoeck and Peter Hagoort

The Academy Professor Prize of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) 2012 was awarded to Ewine van Dishoeck, professor in molecular astrophysics at Leiden University and external scientific member of the MPE, and Peter Hagoort, professor of cognitive neurosciences at the Radboud University Nijmegen. The prizes, one million euros each, are meant as a lifetime achievement award for scientists that have proven to be at the very top of their discipline. There are two annual prizes: one in the social sciences and humanities, the other in the natural and technical sciences. The awards ceremony is set for June 21, 2012.[13]

Expansion Building

In the autumn of 2000 the new building was finished and occupied after a construction time of slightly over two years. Besides the office and laboratory space there is also a large seminar room with a capacity of approximately 200 people, and several small meeting rooms. It is also the first time in 15 years that all research groups of the institute are located in one common building.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "History of the MPE". Retrieved 13 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "History of the MPE: Overview". Retrieved 13 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Agreement Signed for MICADO Camera for E-ELT". Retrieved 21 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Scientific Work at the MPE". Retrieved 13 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Active, Past and Future Projects at the MPE". Retrieved 13 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "MPE Awards & Highlights".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Honorary doctorate for Reinhard Genzel".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "European Geosciences Union".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Tanaka honoured as "Person of Cultural Merit"".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Reinhard Genzel receives Karl Schwarzschild Medal 2011".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "James-Maxwell-Prize for Gregor Morfill". Retrieved 14 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2012 for Reinhard Genzel". Retrieved 14 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Ewine van Dishoeck and Peter Hagoort receive prestigious prize from Dutch Academy of Sciences". Retrieved 14 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.