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MPE History
ee below Overview
ee below Detailed History
see below Literature / Institute Videos

internal link Archive of MPE Project Web Pages



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:

The institute and staff in 2003.

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.

film A short video (7 minutes; in German only) with a description of the institute's research   Film is available here (MPEG format; 138 MB). The video was issued at the occasion of the 40th anniversary in 2003.

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Detailed History

MPE about 1985 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 [1])

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. MPE 1992

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.  Verweis HEXE) have been used to carry experiments to high altitudes.

Since the 90-ies of the last century, satellites have become the preferred observation 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   link "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 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)

Expansion Building
MPE 2001 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.

link photos of the expansion building
link pictures taken during the opening ceremony
link aerial pictures taken in May 2001

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Literature / Institute Videos

  1. 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:
    pdf document "Coping with a new Age: The Max-Planck Society and the Challenge of Space Science in the early 1960s" (pdf; 100 kB)
    manuscript of a talk given October 2, 2000 at the Ringberg Symposium of the MPG on "Innovative Structures in Basic Research", session "Definition of New Frontiers".
    pdf document "To Venture Beyond the Atmosphere - Aspects of the Foundation of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics" (pdf; 2.7 MB)
    Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Preprint Nr. 134, Berlin 2000.
    pdf document "To Venture Beyond the Atmosphere - The Foundation of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics And the Roots of West German Space Research" (pdf; 150 kB)
    QUEST Vol. 8, Nr. 2, pp. 32- 44 (2000).

  2. 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, a pdf document 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).

  3. Since 1963 annual reports of the MPE have been published. Starting with the Annual Report 1998 they are available through the internet (WWW):   link 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 link "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):  pdf dokument Jahresbericht 1963 - 1965 (as usual in the beginning years, the report is in German language only).

  4. In 1980/81 a 20 minute video was compiled from MPE material, showing scientific ballooning.
    Film MPE balloon video (MPEG-Format; 430 MB)
    As the video has no text, a description (in German language) is available
    Verweis here.
    The Institut für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Tübingen, Germany provided a link version with subtitles in German (avi format; 220 MB).

  5. In 1995, a first 10 minute institute video was published. Some information is outdated by now however.
    film MPE Video from 1995 (mp4 format; 48 MB)
    The video is in German language.

  6. In 2003, at the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the MPE, a new video of 7 minute duration was released.
    film MPE Film from 2003 (MPEG format; 138 MB)
    The video is in German language.

  7. 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.
    link to video Instruments and technology development at the MPE   (2007), 22 minutes, 90 MB.
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