top of page
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.
(s. literature )
Professor Klaus Pinkau (1966) and Dr. Gerhard Haerendel (1969) were
appointed scientific members at MPE. K. Pinkau then became 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 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 he was
subsequently relieved of his duties at MPE. In 1984 and 1986 Professor Gregor
Morfill (theory) and Professor Reinhard Genzel (infrared- and sub-mm-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
were 9 scientists and 1 Ph.D. student. Twelve years later in 1975
the number of employees had increased to 180 with 55 scientists
and 13 Ph.D. students. New permanent positions at the institute were
established for the last time in 1973. Indeed, 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 permament
positions (84 of them 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 aximum of
72 in 2000 and 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 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.
been used to carry experiments to high altitudes.
Since the 90-ies of the last century, satellites have become the preferred
platforms because of their favorable observation-time/cost ratio.
Nevertheless, high-flying observation airplanes and telescopes at
high-altitude locations are also used to obtain data whenever possible.
A strong experiment-oriented theory group exists at MPE, so that the
observations and measurements from the many successful experiments
can be quickly and effectively 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
developed into applications in medicine (early diagnostics of skin cancer,
tumours, prenatal surveillance), engineering (manufactoring 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 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 many
brilliant scientific successes. A short selection is listed below :
- 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 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
- 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)
In the autumn of 2000 our new building was finished and occupied after a
construction time of slightly over two years. Besides the office and
laboratory space we now also have a large seminar room with a capacity of
approximately 200 persons, 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.
photos of the expansion building
pictures taken during the opening ceremony
aerial pictures taken in May 2001
Literature / Institute Videos
- Dr. Ulf von Rauchhaupt, a former member of the MPE, has dealt with the
history of the early days of the MPE and the situation of the
German research at this time in various articles:
- At the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the MPE and the 80th birthday
of the founder of the institute Prof. Reimar Lüst in the year 2003,
brochure (pdf, 37 MB)
(in German only) was issued. In the first section, Prof. R. Lüst
describes his career giving it the title "Vom Meeresboden zur
Erdoberfläche in den Weltraum" (from the sea floor to the surface of
the Earth and into space) and the second section, written by our
"newest" director Prof. Ralf Bender, has the title "Schwarze
Löcher am MPE" (Black Holes at MPE).
- Since 1963 annual reports of the MPE have been published. Starting with
the Annual Report 1998 they are available through the internet (WWW):
Annual Reports / Annual Statistics
In 2007 it was decided to no longer publish annual reports. The statistics part formerly contained in the
annual report can now be found in the annual statistics report. A summary of the scientific work at MPE
is now contained in the
"Presentations for the Scientific Advisory Board" which cover several years.
As the first annual report is very interesting from a historical point
of view, it was made available a pdf document (3.1 MB):
Jahresbericht 1963 - 1965
(as usual in the beginning years, the report is in German language only).
- In 1980/81 a 20 minute video was compiled from MPE material, showing
(MPEG-Format; 430 MB)
As the video has no text, a description (in German language) is
The Institut für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Tübingen, Germany provided a
version with subtitles in German
(avi format; 220 MB).
- In 1995, a first 10 minute institute video was published. Some information
is outdated by now however.
Video from 1995 (mp4 format; 48 MB)
The video is in German language.
- In 2003, at the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the MPE, a new
video of 7 minute duration was released.
Film from 2003 (MPEG format; 138 MB)
The video is in German language.
- To show the impressive technical facilities of the institute to the
Visiting Committee in 2007, a 22 minute long video was prepared that
concentrates on this important part of our work.
Instruments and technology development at the MPE
(2007), 22 minutes, 90 MB.