The institute was founded in 1967. Its founding directors were H. Elsässer, and G. Munch, who was followed by S. V. W. Beckwith. The current directors are Hans-Walter Rix and Thomas Henning. G. H. Herbig, Karl-Heinz B\"ohm, Immo Appenzeller, Willy Benz, and Rafael Rebolo have been external scientific members.
The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Astronomy and Cosmic Physics is a graduate program offering a Ph.D. in astrophysics. The school is run in cooperation with the University of Heidelberg.