spectrum scetch
Photo: A newfound population of heavily absorbed active galaxies (orange curve) is thought to make the greatest contribution to the cosmic X-ray background (light blue). Both have similar spectral shapes and peak at similar energies. Adding in the known contributions from less-absorbed active galaxies (yellow and purple) appears to fully account for the background.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Swift Survey Finds 'Missing' Active Galaxies

Researchers from the MPE and the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at SLAC have confirmed that a high number of X-ray sources, thought to be massive black holes, are deeply hidden in our local universe. Obscured by dust and gas, the objects are difficult to spot from Earth.
The new analysis led by Davide Burlon, a Ph.D. student at MPE, will significantly impact the study of the universal X-ray background. Using data from the Swift-BAT telescope, the researchers examined a key source of the cosmic X-ray background: galaxies with massive black holes at their centers. Gas and dust spiral around the black hole, radiating high levels of X-ray light. These bright X-ray centers are known as active galactic nuclei, or AGNs.
Only a small portion of very high-energy X-rays from extremely absorbed AGN reach Earth, so these objects would not be immediately visible in the telescope data from Swift. Burlon and collegues studied a sample of X-ray sources in the local universe (an area out to about 326 million light years from Earth) in an effort to identify previously unseen extremely absorbed AGNs. They combined archival data with three years of data from Swift-BAT. Together they confirmed experimentally that between 20 and 30 percent of all AGN in the local universe are extremely absorbed. These results line up with theories on this subject.
People have tried to look for these objects for a very long time - now the team has found more than anyone has found in the past.

[ internal link NASA press release ] [ internal link SLAC press release ] [ internal link more ]
(January 25, 2011)
up top of page

award ceremony
Photo: The "La Calabria nel Mondo" award is given to Sandra Savaglio by Antonio Catricalà, the President of the independent organisation AGCM, on October 12, 2010.
Copyright: Andrea Cenni

"Calabria in the World " awarded to MPE scientist Sandra Savaglio

This October,  internal linkSandra Savaglio, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, received the international award " La Calabria nel Mondo ". The Italian organization C3 International ("Centro Culturale Calabrese") recognized with this award Savaglio's international achievements in modern science and astrophysics. The ceremony took place in the City Hall "Campidoglio" of Rome.
Every year, C3 International honours distinguished persons from Calabria, successful in their work in the fields of science, culture, sports, and journalism, who have been ambassadors of Calabria and its values around the world. Among past honourees are Renato Dulbecco, Nobel Prize laureate for Medicine in 1975, Leon Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Santo Versace from the fashion house Versace, and José Serra, a presidential candidate of the Brazilian elections in 2002.
Apart from Savaglio, 14 other people received the award this year. Among the guests were Jo Champa, former model for Gianni Versace and actress (her latest movie was "Somewhere" which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival), and the Minister of Cultural Heritage Sandro Bondi.
Designed by the well-known artist Gerardo Sacco, this year's award represents a scene from one of the oldest surviving illuminated manuscripts of the Gospels. Written in the 6th century, the "Codex purpureus Rossanensis" is now located at the Cathedral of Rossano in Calabria.
(December 21, 2010)
up top of page
dark GRB
Dust in the surrounding of a GRB will dim and redden the light before it reaches the observer.
Credit: MPE / J. Greiner

Illuminating dark bursts with GROND

Gamma-ray bursts are among the most energetic events in the Universe, but some appear curiously faint in visible light. An international team of astronomers led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics have now conducted the biggest study to date of these so-called dark gamma-ray bursts, using the GROND instrument on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla in Chile. The scientists conclude that these gigantic explosions do not require exotic explanations; their faintness is now fully explained by a combination of causes, the most important of which is the presence of dust between the Earth and the explosion.

[ internal link more ]
(December 16, 2010)
up top of page
distribution of Al26
The evolution of the abundance of 26Al in a stellar group.
Picture: R. Voss.

INTEGRAL helps unravel the tumultuous recent history of the solar neighbourhood

Analysing new observations in gamma rays with ESA's INTEGRAL observatory, astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and other institutions found evidence that only a few million years ago massive stars enriched our cosmic neighbourhood with heavy elements. The scientists exploited the radioactive decay of an isotope of aluminium, produced in the late stages of a massive star's lifetime, to estimate the age of stars in the nearby Scorpius-Centaurus association, the closest group of young and massive stars to the Sun.

[ internal link more ]
(November 30, 2010)
up top of page
Fermi sky
A giant gamma-ray structure was discovered by processing Fermi all-sky data at energies from 1 to 10 billion electron volts.
Picture: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT/D. Finkbeiner et al..

Fermi telescope finds giant gamma-ray bubbles in the Milky Way

A team of scientists has found a previously unseen structure in the Milky Way by processing publicly available data from Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT). The LAT is the most sensitive and highest-resolution gamma-ray detector ever launched and the MPE is involved in scientific analysis of the LAT data. The newly detected feature spans 50,000 light-years and may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the centre of our galaxy. A paper about the findings has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

[ internal link more ]
(November 18, 2010)
up top of page
Yasuo Tanaka 2001

Yasuo Tanaka
Image: MPE (D. Grupe)

Tanaka honoured as "Person of Cultural Merit"

A very high japanese accolade this year goes to Dr. Yasuo Tanaka, scientific member at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, together with 16 other people chosen 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.

[ internal link more ]
(November 2, 2010)
up top of page


Cluster Promotion prize for MPE student Thomas Krühler

During the "Universe Cluster Science Week", 11.-14. October, Dr. Thomas Krühler from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics presented his award winning thesis on "Advanced Photometric Studies of Gamma-Ray Burst Afterglows". For the third time, the Excellence Cluster Universe awarded two outstanding dissertations in the fields of astro-, nuclear and particle physics in the categories "experiment" and "theory".

[ internal link more ]
(October 10, 2010)
up top of page
V407 Cyg
Nova Cygni (V407 Cyg) is at the center of the image.
Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

News from a nova: gamma rays

For the first time, astronomers have detected gamma-rays from a nova, a finding that surprised both observers and theorists. The discovery using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope overturns the notion that novae explosions lack the power to emit such high-energy radiation.

Gamma rays are the most energetic form of light, and Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) detected the nova for 15 days. Scientists believe the emission arose as a high velocity shock wave raced from the site of the explosion. A paper detailing the discovery appeared in the journal Science on 13. August 2010.

[ internal link more ]
(August 18, 2010)
up top of page
NGC 2207

NGC 2207
Image: ESO

Massive Black holes "switch on" due to galaxy collision

The centre of most galaxies harbours a massive Black Hole. So does our Milky Way - the exotic object there however is pretty calm, unlike some supermassive gravity monsters in other galaxies. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and other institutions around the world have now analysed 199 of these galaxies and discovered what makes the black holes at the galaxy centre become active: The black holes switched on some 700 million years ago after major galaxy merger events.
(The Astrophysical Journal, in press)

For more information see the

    internal link MPE press release.
(June 15, 2010)
up top of page
K. Nandra

Kirpal Nandra

Kirpal Nandra appointed as new Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics

The open position on the Board of Directors at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics is now filled: Kirpal Nandra joins the institute as new director and head of the high-energy research group. His long experience in X-ray astronomy actively complements the two other astrophysical groups at the institute that study objects such as stars, galaxies and the large scale structure in the universe with optical, infrared and sub-millimetre astronomy.

For more information see the

    internal link MPE press release.

Image: MPE
(June 10, 2010)
up top of page


Image: ESA/XMM-Newton

Novel observing mode on XMM-Newton opens new perspectives on galaxy clusters

Surveying the sky with XMM-Newton, scientists at the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and other institutes have discovered two massive galaxy clusters, confirming a previous detection obtained through observations of the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect, the 'shadow' they cast on the Cosmic Microwave Background. The discovery, made possible thanks to a novel mosaic observing mode recently introduced on ESA's X-ray observatory, opens a new window to study the Universe's largest bound structures in a multi-wavelength approach.

For more information see the

    internal link MPE press release.
(May 31 2010)
up top of page

Posetta nebula
In this false colour image arrows indicate galaxies that are likely located at the same distance. The combination of the X-ray detection and the collection of massive galaxies unequivocally proves a real, gravitationally bound cluster.

Most distant galaxy cluster revealed by invisible light

An international team of astronomers from Germany and Japan has discovered the most distant cluster of galaxies known so far - 9.6 billion light years away. The X-ray and infrared observations showed that the cluster hosts predominantly old, massive galaxies, demonstrating that the galaxies formed when the universe was still very young. These and similar observations therefore provide new information not only about early galaxy evolution but also about history of the universe as a whole.

For more information see
    interner Verweis MPE Press Release.

Contact at MPE: A. Finoguenov linkA. Finoguenov
(May 10, 2010)
up top of page

galaxy cluster
Image: S. Giodini, A. Finoguenov/MPE

Black Holes - "Gas Blowers" of the Universe

Supermassive black holes with the mass of many millions of stars have been detected at the centre of many large galaxies. A super-massive black hole acts like a lurking "monster" at the centre of the galaxy which swallows the surrounding material through the intensity of its gravitational pull. X-ray observations indicate that a large amount of energy is produced by the in-fall of matter into a black hole, and ejected in powerful jets. Astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics have now shown that these jets eject matter not only from their host galaxies but even the gas between the galaxy group members.
(Astrophysical Journal, 1 May 2010)

For further information see the
    internal link MPE press release.

Contact at MPE: S. Giodini linkS. Giodini
(April 30, 2010)
up top pf page

HM Cancri
HM Cancri
Artwork: Rob Haynes, Louisiana State University       

Most extreme binary shows orbital period of a mere 5 minutes

That is real fast: Two suns orbit each other in a mere 5.4 minutes. This makes HM Cancri the binary star system with by far the shortest known orbital period - and at the same time the smallest binary known. Its size is equivalent to no more than a quarter of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, about 100,000 kilometres. This has been shown by an international team of astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and other institutions.

    external link Original publication
        ApJ 711, L138-L142 (2010);

    external link MPG press release
    external link Warwick University press release
    external link Keck observatory press release

Contact at MPE: A. Rau VerweisArne Rau
(March 09, 2010)
up top of page

XMM-Newton satellite
MPE scientists
MPE scientists discussing XMM data

10th Anniversary of XMM-Newton

The MPE was highly involved in this mission during the telescope development and test, it provides the EPIC-pn camera, and runs the survey science center.
The primary scientific objective of XMM-Newton is to perform high throughput spectroscopy of cosmic X-ray sources over a broad band of energies ranging from 0.1 keV to 10 keV. The XMM-Newton spacecraft payload includes three highly-nested grazing-incidence mirror modules of type Wolter I coupled to reflection grating spectrometers and X-ray charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras with resolving powers ranging from 10 up to 1000 as well as one small optical/UV telescope.
For XMM-Newtons 10-year anniversary, the TV station EuroNews concentrated on the X-ray satellite in its broadcast "space", which was produced in collaboration with the European Space Agency ESA and the MPE.

   external link EuroNews broadcast "space" featuring XMM and filmed in part at MPE
(8 minutes; MPEG-4 format; 104 MB)
external link XMM Web pages at ESA for the 10th anniversary
internal link XMM Web pages at MPE

Contact at MPE:   
internal link F. Haberl

internal link W. Pietsch
(February 17, 2010)
up top of page
The Quasar J004457+4123 (encircled object on the left upper panel) looks like a weak point of light, hardly to be distinguished from the huge number of stars in the Andromeda galaxy (right).

Copyright: TLS Tautenburg

Spectacular flare of a distant Quasar

Using data from several telescopes, an international team of scientists from the MPE, the Tautenburg observatory and others have now confirmed that an object observed in 1992 as a so-called "nova" in our neighbouring Andromeda galaxy is actually a much more distant quasar with a uniquely intense light burst. The most likely explanation for the magnitude and shape of the light curve is that a massive star came too close to the gigantic Black Hole at the centre of this distant galaxy, where it was ripped apart and swallowed by the gravitational pull of the black hole.

  external link Press information of the Landessternwarte Tautenburg (in German)
  external link Web pages of the Landessternwarte Tautenburg

Contact at MPE:   
internal link W. Pietsch
(February 11, 2010)
up top of page
X-ray emission in the COSMOS field.
Credit: ESA

XMM-Newton traces dark matter in faint, distant galaxy groups

Observations of faint and distant galaxy groups made with the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton observatory have been used to probe the evolution of dark matter. The results of the study by researchers including scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute for extraterrestrial Physics, Germany, are reported in the 20 January issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Verweis ESA press release

Verweis Original paper (ApJ 709, 97-114 (2010))


Verweis Alexis Finoguenov
(January 25, 2010)
up top of page
photon arrival times
Photon arrival times
(for details see Nature paper)
Image: Nature
Testing Einstein's Special Relativity with
Gamma-Ray Burst Photons

Einstein’s special relativity postulates that observers see the same speed of light in vacuum, independent of photon-energy. At a fundamental scale (the Planck scale), quantum effects are expected to affect the nature of space–time, and Lorentz invariance might become violated. MPE scientists have been involved in a key test of such violation, namely the possible variation of photon speed with energy over cosmological light-travel times. This became possible by the detection of emission from keV up to 31 GeV energies with the Fermi satellite's instruments (GBM, LAT) from the distant and short gamma-ray burst GRB090510. No violation of Lorentz invariance was found to 1 part in 1017, placing the tightest limits so far and eliminating some quantum-gravity theories.
(Abdo et al., Nature 462, Oct 2009)

external link Nature original publication
external link Stanford University News

linkJ. Greiner

linkA. von Kienlin
(November 05, 2009)
up top of page
contract signing
Signing of contract
from left: Reichle, Wörner, Perminov


Images: MPE

DLR and Roscosmos sign technical agreement for X-ray telescope eROSITA

With seven X-ray eyes the eROSITA telescope will scan the Universe for black holes and dark matter. Today board members of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Russian Federal Space agency Roscosmos signed an agreement which defines all organisational and technical conditions.

This contract gives the go-ahead to the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, which is responsible for the development and building of eROSITA.


external link MPG press release (in German language)

external link DLR press release (in German language)

internal link MPE eRosita project description

linkP. Predehl
(July 18, 2009)
up top of page

Image Credit: Rochester Institute of Technology

Living Fossils Hold Record of "Supermassive" Kick -
Star clusters point to black holes ejected from host galaxies

When two galaxies and the supermassive black holes in their centres merge, the resulting recoil can catapult the black hole from the galaxy. Scientists of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), MPE and Johns Hopkins University have now found that the stellar clusters around these black holes show very unusual properties and so open up a new possibility to study the event in detail. The stars around evicted black holes orbit at a very high velocity, because only stars orbiting faster than the kick velocity remain attached to the black hole after the kick. As a kind of living fossils of a distant epoch they can shed light on the turbulent past of merging galaxies in nearby clusters.


external link RIT Press Release

external link Original paper
linkS. Komossa
(July 10, 2009)
up top of page

In this picture the afterglow of GRB090423 is the red object shining only in some of the used color channels.


Gamma-Ray Burst 090423 detected at a record distance

Following a Gamma-Ray burst alarm of the NASA Swift Satellite on April 23, several groups world-wide started searching for the afterglow emission. The MPE built  linkGROND instrument mounted at the MPI/ESO telesope at La Silla Observatory (Chile) observed this afterglow simultaneously in the spectral bands g'r'i'z'JHK about 15 hours after the burst. The simultaneous measurements in the seven spectral bands enabled scientists at MPE led by Jochen Greiner, to rapidly estimate the redshift of the burst to be around z = 8 which puts it into a new record distance.

[  internal linkmore ]

(April 28, 2009)
up top of page

Validhtml 4.01! Last update: 2011-01-25 by linkH. Steinle