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.
Major events in the history of the institute include:
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 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. 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.
Besides 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 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.
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).
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.
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.