Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

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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 Foundation of working group Lüst
  • 1963 Foundation as a sub-institute within the MPI für Physik und Astrophysik; director R. Lüst; Institute moves to Garching (barrack X1)
  • 1964 Partial move from barrack (X1) to MPE building (X2) in February
  • 1965 Official inauguration of the MPE main building (X2) on February 15, 1965
  • 1966 Klaus Pinkau becomes scientific member (cosmic rays, gamma-astronomy)
  • 1969 Klaus Pinkau becomes director at the institute, Gerhard Haerendel becomes scientific member (plasma physics)
  • 1972 Gerhard Haerendel becomes director at the institute; reimar Lüst is elected president of the MPG (on leave from the institute), Klaus Pinkau becomes acting director
  • 1975 Joachim Trümper becomes director and scientific member at the institute (X-ray astronomy)
  • 1981 Founded by J. Trümper, the MPE X-ray test facility "Panter" located in Neuried starts operation
  • 1981 Klaus Pinkau on leave and becomes director at the IPP; Gamma-astronomy is carried on by Volker Schönfelder
  • 1985 Gregor Morfill becomes director and scientific member at the institute (theory)
  • 1986 Reinhard Genzel becomes director and scientific member at the institute (infrared astronomy)
  • 1991 Transformation of the MPI for Extraterrestrial Physics into an autonomous institute
  • 1990 Joachim Trümper together with the MPI for Physics (MPP) founds the semiconductor laboratory as a joint project between the MPE and the MPP (since 2012 operated by the MPG)
  • 1998 September: Start of construction work for the expansion building X5
  • 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) (until 2004)
  • 2000 December: official opening of the expansion building X5
  • 2001 The "International Max-Planck- Research School on Astrophysics" (IMPRS) is opened by MPE, MPA, ESO, MPP and the universities of Munich
  • 2001 Joachim Trümper retires; Gerhard Haerendel retires and joins the International University Bremen as vice president; Günther Hasinger becomes scientific member and director at the institute (X-ray astronomy)
  • 2002 Ralf Bender becomes scientific member and director at the institute (optical and interpretative astronomy)
  • 2008 Günther 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 becomes scientific member and director at the institute (high-energy astrophysics)
  • 2013 Gregor Morfill retires, part of his plasma crystal group moves to DLR
  • 2014 Paola Caselli becomes scientific member and director at the institute (Center for Astrochemical Studies)
  • [2]

Detailed history[edit]

The Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik (MPE) was preceded by the department for extraterrestrial Physics in the Max-Planck-Institut für Physik und Astrophysik. 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-Institut für Physik und Astrophysik 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. A continuous reorientation to new, promising fields of research and the appointment of new members ensures steady advancement.

Among the 29 employees of the Institute when it was founded in 1963 were 9 scientists and 1 Ph.D. student. Twelve years later in 1975 the number of employees had grown to 180 with 55 scientists and 13 Ph.D. students, and today (status 2015) there are some 400 staff (130 scientists and 75 PhD students). It is noteworthy that permanent positions at the institute have not increased since 1973 - despite its celebrated scientific achievements. The increasingly complex tasks and international obligations have been mainly maintained by staff members with positions having limited duration and funded by external organizations.

Because the Institute has assumed a leading position in astronomy 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 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 also became important: astrophysical observations of electomagnetic radiation which could not be observed from the surface of the earth because the wave lengths are such that the radiation is absorbed by the earth's atmosphere. These observations and inferences therefrom are the subject matter of infra-red 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 experiments to high altitudes.

Since the 1990s, satellites have become the preferred observation platforms because of their favorable observation-time/cost ratio. Nevertheless, high-flying observation airplanes and ground-based telescopes are also used to obtain data especially for optical and near-infrared observations.

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.

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 desaster was attributed to an error in the rocket's software. The most recent loss was "ABRIXAS", an X-ray satellite built by industry under the leadership of MPE. After few hours in orbit, a malfunction of the power system caused the total loss of the satellite.

Over the years, however, the history of MPE is primarily a story of scientific successes.


Selected achievements[edit]

    • 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 experiments 1978)
    • 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)
    • First 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 and its successors on the International Space Station (1996-2013)
    • The measurememt 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 and planets (1996, 2001)
    • Determining the energy source for ultraluminous infrared galaxies with the satellite ISO (1998)
    • Detection of gamma-ray line emission (44Ti) from supernova remnants (1998)
    • Deep observations of the extragalactic X-ray sky with ROSAT, XMM-Newton and Chandra and resolving the background radiation into individual sources (since 1998)
    • Confirmation that a supermassive black hole resides at the centre of our galaxy (2002)
    • Detection of a binary active galactic nucleus in X-rays (2003)
    • Reconstruction of the evolution history of stars in elliptical galaxies (2005)
    • Stellar disks rotating around the black hole in the Andromeda galaxy (2005)
    • Determining the gas content of normal galaxies in the early universe (since 2010)
    • Resolving the cosmic infrared background into individual galaxies with Herschel (2011)[1]

Scientific work[edit]

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 in the Centre for Astrochemical Studies (Caselli). Within these areas scientists lead individual experiments and research projects organised in about 25 project teams. The research topics pursued at MPE 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. 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 eROSITA) 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.

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[edit]

  • ACE
  • Chandra
  • Fermi (GLAST)
  • GRON
  • KMOS
  • LUCI (LBT)
  • OmegaCAM
  • Pan-STARRS
  • Rosetta
  • SOHO
  • Swift
  • Wendelstein
  • XMM-Newton

Past projects[edit]

  • Abrixas
  • ALFA
  • Azur
  • Compton GRO
  • Cos B
  • Equator-S
  • Firewheel
  • GeAs detectors
  • Herschel (FIRST)
  • Helios
  • HEXE
  • ISO
  • LISA
  • MEGA
  • Mir-HEXE
  • PKE-Nefedov
  • PK-3 Plus
  • PK-4
  • Plasma Lab
  • Sampex
  • SMM
  • Stardust
  • Ulysses

Future projects[edit]

Under construction:


Proposed projects:

  • Athena
  • ERIS


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[edit]

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[edit]

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"[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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]

Linda Tacconi receives Lancelot Berkeley Prize[edit]

In January 2012 Linda Tacconi received the "Lancelot M. Berkeley - New York Community Trust Prize for Meritorious Work in Astronomy" during the annual winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas. In her prize lecture, the MPE scientist talked about how powerful millimetre telescopes can probe distant, massive galaxies to reveal that they were indeed rich in molecular gas and therefore formed stars much more rapidly than galaxies today.[14]

Tycho Brahe Prize for Reinhard Genzel[edit]

The European Astronomical Society awarded the 2012 Tycho Brahe Prize to Professor Reinhard Genzel, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to European near-infrared instrumentation and for ground-breaking work in galactic and extragalactic astronomy.[15]

Order of the Rising Sun awarded to Prof.Trümper[edit]

On 29 April 2012, the Japanese Emperor awarded the "Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon" to the German astrophysicist Professor Joachim Trümper. The former MPE Director is honoured for his outstanding contribution to scientific cooperation between Japan and German and for fostering staff exchanges over the course of many years of work. On 10 July 2012 the Japanese ambassador officially bestowed the Order to Trümper in Berlin.[16]

Patricia Schady receives Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize[edit]

In August 2012, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation bestowed the Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize on Patricia Schady, astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE). Financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the prize is awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for the scientific achievements of exceptionally promising young scientists and young researchers from abroad to allow them to establish an independent junior research group at research institutions in Germany.[17]

Herschel Medal for Reinhard Genzel[edit]

At its “ordinary meeting” on 10 January 2014, the Royal Astronomical Society announced that Professor Reinhard Genzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, and the University of California, Berkeley, received the Herschel Medal in 2014 for his outstanding contributions to observational astrophysics. RAS President, Professor David Southwood, presented Genzel with the award during the UK national astronomy meeting in Portsmouth at the end of June.[18]

Reinhard Genzel becomes member of the order “pour le mérite”[edit]

On 1 June 2014, the chancellor of the order “pour le mérite for sciences and arts”, Prof Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, presented MPE director Reinhard Genzel officially with the golden medal of the order in the presence of German federal president Joachim Gauck, who is the patron of the order. The ceremony took place during the spring meeting of the order in Berlin. The chapter of the order had voted for Genzel already in autumn 2013 during its meeting in Regensburg.[19]

Order of Merit for Reinhard Genzel[edit]

On 6 October 2014 at the Schloss Bellevue, German federal President Joachim Gauck honoured Reinhard Genzel and other German citizens with the Order of Merit, for achievements in the political, economic, social or intellectual realm and for all kinds of outstanding services to the nation in the field of social, charitable or philanthropic work.[20]

Harvey Prize for Reinhard Genzel[edit]

On 29 April 2015, Reinhard Genzel received the „2014 Harvey Prize in the field of Science & Technology” from the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. The Harvey Prize rewards excellence by recognizing breakthroughs in science and technology and this year is awarded jointly to the director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Prof Reinhard Genzel, and the cancer researcher, Prof James P. Allison. Genzel is honoured for developing novel astronomical detectors and using them to prove that there resides a supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way.[21]

Albert Einstein World Award of Science for Ewine van Dishoeck[edit]

The World Cultural Council honoured Ewine van Dishoeck, Professor for molecular Astrophysics at the Leiden University and External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE), with the 2015 Albert Einstein World Award of Science. This prize is awarded to scientists for their outstanding achievements, which bring scientific progress and benefit to mankind.[22]

Roland Diehl nominated Fellow of the American Physical Society[edit]

In its September 2015 meeting, the American Physical Society (APS) nominated MPE senior scientist Roland Diehl for a Fellowship. This is recognition of his outstanding contributions to astrophysics, in particular for his observations of gamma-ray radiation from radioactive elements in space, and his pioneering contributions to gamma-ray telescopes and analysing gamma-ray observations in general.[23]

Joachim Trümper receives Tycho Brahe Prize[edit]

In 2016, the European Astronomical Society honoured former MPE director Prof. Joachim Trümper with the Tycho Brahe Prize in recognition of his visionary development of X-ray instrumentation, from balloon experiments and the discovery of cyclotron lines probing the magnetic field of neutron stars to his leadership and strong scientific involvement in the ROSAT mission.[24]

Expansion Building[edit]

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. ^ a b c d "History of the MPE". Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  2. ^ "History of the MPE: Overview". Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "Agreement Signed for MICADO Camera for E-ELT". Retrieved 21 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "Scientific Work at the MPE". Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Active, Past and Future Projects at the MPE". Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  6. ^ "MPE Awards & Highlights". 
  7. ^ "Honorary doctorate for Reinhard Genzel". 
  8. ^ "European Geosciences Union". 
  9. ^ "Tanaka honoured as "Person of Cultural Merit"". 
  10. ^ "Reinhard Genzel receives Karl Schwarzschild Medal 2011". 
  11. ^ "James-Maxwell-Prize for Gregor Morfill". Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  12. ^ "Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2012 for Reinhard Genzel". Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  13. ^ "Ewine van Dishoeck and Peter Hagoort receive prestigious prize from Dutch Academy of Sciences". Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  14. ^ "Linda Tacconi receives Lancelot Berkeley Prize". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  15. ^ "Tycho Brahe Prize for Reinhard Genzel". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  16. ^ "Order of the Rising Sun awarded to Prof.Trümper". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  17. ^ "Patricia Schady receives Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  18. ^ "Herschel Medal for Reinhard Genzel". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  19. ^ "Reinhard Genzel becomes member of the order "pour le mérite"". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  20. ^ "Distinctions for Reinhard Genzel". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  21. ^ "Harvey Prize for Reinhard Genzel". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  22. ^ "Two international awards for Ewine van Dishoeck". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  23. ^ "Roland Diehl nominated Fellow of the American Physical Society". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 
  24. ^ "Joachim Trümper receives Tycho Brahe Prize". Retrieved 2016-09-15. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°15′42″N 11°40′18″E / 48.26167°N 11.67167°E / 48.26167; 11.67167