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MPE Highlights

Starting in December 2008, MPE research highlights, prestigious awards received by MPE members, and other events important to the MPE are listed here.

Ewine van Dishoeck
Ewine van Dishoeck
Copyright: University Leiden

Ewine van Dishoeck and Peter Hagoort receive prestigious prize from Dutch Academy of Sciences

This year, the Academy Professor prize of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is 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, both 1 Million Euro, are meant as a lifetime achievement award for scientists that have proven that they are 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 will take place on 21 June 2012.

[ internal link more ]
(April 5, 2012)
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ULX in Andromeda
Credit: E. M. Huff, the SDSS-III team, and the South Pole Telescope team. Graphic by Zosia Rostomian.

Observing the galaxy distribution when the universe was half its current age

At the UK-Germany National Astronomy Meeting NAM2012, the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) team today announced the most accurate measurement yet of the distribution of galaxies between five and six billion years ago. This was the key 'pivot' moment at which the expansion of the universe stopped slowing down due to gravity and started to accelerate instead, due to a mysterious force dubbed ”dark energy". The nature of this ”dark energy" is one of the big mysteries in cosmology today, and scientists need precise measurements of the expansion history of the universe to unravel this mystery – BOSS provides this kind of data. In a set of six joint papers presented today, the BOSS team, an international group of scientists with the participation of the Max Planck Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, used these data together with previous measurements to place tight constraints on various cosmological models.

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(March 30, 2012)
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Reinhard Genzel
Reinhard Genzel
Bild: MPE

Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2012 for Reinhard Genzel

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today 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".

[ internal link more ]
(January 19, 2012)
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disrupted gas cloud
A simulation of the gas cloud moving towards the galactic centre. Because of the enormous gravitational pull of the black hole, the cloud already becomes elongated along its direction of motion.
Credit: MPE

Galactic Black Hole disrupts Gas Cloud

Over the next few years, astronomers will be able to observe first-hand how the super massive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way is being fed: an international team of astronomers led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics has found a gas cloud that is falling towards the black hole in the galactic centre. While some distortion due to the huge gravitational pull of the black hole can already be seen, the gas cloud will be completely disrupted and ultimately swallowed by the black hole, resulting in largely increased X-ray emission. The observations and analysis are described in a Nature paper, published online on 14 December 2011.

[ internal link more incl. movies ]
(December 14, 2011)
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redit: Dornier System, now EADS

ROSAT - the end of an exceptional satellite
(1.June 1990 - 23. October 2011)

During the early morning hours of 23rd October 2011, at about 4 am CEST, the research satellite ROSAT plunged back to Earth and disappeared - probably without a trace - in the Indian Ocean. This was the last stage for one of the most successful satellite missions of X-ray astronomy. During its eight years of active live, the X-ray observatory ROSAT detected more than 150 000 mainly unknown X-ray sources; some 4000 scientists from 24 countries used its data for more than 4600 papers in refereed journals, which were cited over 140 000 times.

[ internal link more ]
(November 14, 2011)
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Prof. Gregor Mofill (Credit: MPE)

James-Maxwell-Prize for Gregor Morfill

This year's James Clerk Maxwell Prize in Plasma Physics goes to Professor Gregor Morfill, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. 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 will take place at the annual meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics to be held in Salt Lake City in November 2011.

The prize was established in 1975 in honour of the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell and is presented annually for outstanding contributions to plasma physics. Gregor Morfill is the first German laureate. The official citation highlights in particular his work leading to the discovery of plasma crystals, to an explanation for the complicated structure of Saturn's rings and to microgravity dusty plasma experiments conducted first on parabolic-trajectory flights and then on the International Space Station.

[ interner Verweis more ]
(19. Juli 2011)
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Prof. Dr. Reinhard Genzel, winner of the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society 2011 (Credit: MPE)

Reinhard Genzel receives Karl Schwarzschild Medal 2011

The highest honour for astronomical research in Germany, the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society (AG), this year goes to the Garching astrophysicist Reinhard Genzel, director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. 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.

[ interner Verweis more ]
The stars S2 orbits around the centre of the Milky Way in less than 20 years and comes very close to the central object. The only viable explanation for this is a Black Hole with 4.3 million solar masses.
(13. Juli 2011)
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This illustration shows an Ultra-Luminous InfraRed Galaxy (ULIRG) that exhibits massive outflows of molecular gas.
Image: ESA/AOES Medialab

Caught in the act:
Herschel detects gigantic storms sweeping entire galaxies clean

With observations from the PACS instrument on board the ESA Herschel space observatory, an international team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics have found gigantic storms of molecular gas gusting in the centres of many galaxies. Some of these massive outflows reach velocities of more than 1000 kilometres per second, i.e. thousands of times faster than in terrestrial hurricanes. The observations show that the more active galaxies contain stronger winds, which can blow away the entire gas reservoir in a galaxy, thereby inhibiting both further star formation and the growth of the central black hole. This finding is the first conclusive evidence for the importance of galactic winds in the evolution of galaxies.

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(May 9, 2011)
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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)
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K. Nandra

Kirpal Nandra
Image: MPE

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 For more information see the

    internal link MPE press release.

and the

    internal link Web pages of the High-Energy Astrophysics group.
(June 10, 2010)
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G. Haerendel
Gerhard Haerendel
Foto: Rob Rutten

Cassini Medal

Gerhard Haerendel awarded the Jean Dominique Cassini Medal

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 Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics also became an Honorary Member of the EGU.

An expert on space research, Haerendel has held many prominent scientific positions and was a principal investigator of several international rocket and satellite projects. He experimented with the "barium plasma cloud technique" in various aspects of plasma and magnetospheric physics, leading to the creation of artificial comets. As one of the fathers of CLUSTER, Haerendel's pioneering work has provided new insights into the understanding of plasma in space and its interaction with the solar wind.

In his award lecture, Haerendel talked about "Fascinating Plasma Structures", which attracted his particular attention because of their observable, fine structure and complex underlying physics involving magnetic fields. Such plasma structures can be observed in a variety of objects: in the solar corona, in cometary tails and in the Earth's aurora.

The prestigious Jean Dominique Cassini Medal is awarded by the European Geosciences Union (EGU) for merit and scientific achievements to scientists who have gained exceptional international standing in planetary and space sciences. The award is named after the Italian/French astronomer and engineer who in the 17th century observed not only the sun and planets but also studied the zodiacal light.

    external link European Geosciences Union
    external link Jean Dominique Cassini Medal & Honorary Membership 2010
    internal link CLUSTER-Mission
(May 20, 2010)
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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.
(April 30, 2010)
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star forming region
Star forming region in the Milky Way

Making the invisible visible

The Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) partners in Germany, the U.S.A. and Italy are pleased to announce that the first of two new innovative near-infrared cameras/spectrographs for the LBT is now available to astronomers for scientific observations at the telescope on Mt. Graham in south-eastern Arizona. After more than a decade of design, manufacturing and testing, the new instrument, dubbed LUCIFER 1, provides a powerful tool to gain spectacular insights into the universe, from the Milky Way up to extremely distant galaxies. LUCIFER 1 has been built by a consortium of German institutes and will be followed by an identical twin instrument that will be delivered to the telescope in early 2011.

For more information see the

    interner Verweis MPE Press Release.
(April 21, 2010)
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EGS 1305123
Galaxy EGS 1305123
Copyright: MPE/IRAM

Young galaxies gorge on gas

Scientists find explanation for higher star formation rate in young galaxies

Stars form from giant gas clouds in galaxies - the star formation rate however has changed over cosmic timescales. In the young universe many more stars were born. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics, together with an international team of astronomers have found a plausible explanation: a few billion years after the Big Bang, normal star forming galaxies contained five to ten times more cold gas than today, providing more "food" to fuel the star formation process.
(Nature, February 11, 2010)

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(February 10, 2010)
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R. Genzel
linkReinhard Genzel

Honorary doctorate for Reinhard Genzel

On 8th February, the oldest Dutch university in Leiden bestows a honorary doctorate on Reinhard Genzel, astrophysicist and director at the Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, 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 will take place in the framework of the "Lustrum Dies Natalis 2010" celebration, commemorating the university´s foundation in February 1575.

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(February 5, 2010)
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Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov with the PK-3 Plus laboratory in MIM-2, the new Russian docking and research module.
(Credit: Image courtesy of RKK-Energia).

Plasma Experiment celebrates its anniversary on board ISS

On 27th January 2010 the 25th series of experiments studying complex plasmas will start on board the international space station ISS. Physicists from the Max-Planck-Institute for extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, will use them to study fundamental structure forming processes to better understand what happens in liquids and solids.

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(January 27, 2010)
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PACS image
Herschel-PACS images of the 'GOODS-N' field in the constellation of Ursa Major at far-infrared wavelengths of 100 and 160 µm.
Image: MPE

Herschel Space Telescope uncovers the sources of the Cosmic Infrared Background

A weak cosmic infrared radiation field that reaches Earth from all directions contains not yet deciphered messages about the evolution of galaxies. Using first observations with the PACS Instrument on board ESA's Herschel Space Telescope, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and other institutions have for the first time resolved more than half of this radiation into its constituting sources. Observations with Herschel open the road towards understanding the properties of these galaxies, and trace the dusty side of galaxy evolution.
[ internal link more ]
(December 16, 2009)
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milkyway in IR
Part of the milkyway in IR
Image: MPE
(Hi-Res high resolution)

Herschel views deep-space pearls on a cosmic string

Europe's new space observatory Herschel has delivered marvellous vistas of cold gas clouds lying near the plane of the Milky Way.
The dark, cool region is dotted with stellar factories, like pearls on a cosmic string, unveiling unexpected activity in spectacular details as we have never seen it before! These infrared pictures prove that Herschel is on par with the Hubble Space Telescope, complementing Hubble's view of the universe in visible light with the missing "other half" in the infrared.


external link ESA web release
externer Verweis ESA's Herschel web page
Further MPE/PACS milestones:
internal link Looking deep into the Cat's Eye with Herschel/PACS
interner Verweis Herschel’s first glimpse into space
Contact:   linkE. Sturm
(October 14, 2009)
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contract signing
Signing of contract
from left: Reichle, Wörner, Perminov
Image: MPE

High level discussion
Image: DLR

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 project description

Contact person at MPE:

    linkP. Predehl

    linkM. Clerico, press officer MPE and MPA
(July 18, 2009)
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Herschel satellite

The Cat's Eye nebula NGC6543 as seen by PACS

Looking deep into the Cat's Eye with Herschel/PACS

After the surprising success of the earlier “sneak preview” of the PACS photometer – a spectacular far-infrared colour image of the Whirlpool Galaxy M51 – the first light observation of the spectrometer part of the instrument was carried out on June 23. Already, these very first data fulfill the expectations of the PACS-Team at MPE at this point and are of unprecedented sensitivity. "A lot of excitement is ahead of us"

internal link More information (PDF file)

external link MPG press release (in German language)

external link ESA press release

(July 10, 2009)
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Herschel sattelite

Herschel satellite in orbit

Artist's view by D. Ducros, ESA, 2009

Looking into the Nursery of Stars

After ten years of developing and building Herschel, the ESA mission will start into space on the 14th of May. In 1.5 million kilometres distance from earth the space probe will orbit the sun for 3½ years. With its three instruments it will especially detect and analyse infrared radiation, which contains information on a wide range of phenomena like the evolution of distant galaxies and the existence of water in our solar system. Two of the three instruments on board have been developed or co-developed by the Max Planck Institutes for extraterrestrial Physics, Astronomy, Radio Astronomy and Solar System Research.

internal link MPE press release

external link MPG press release

(May 04, 2009)
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Galaxies in Virgo

The elliptical galaxies NGC 4649 (left) and NGC 4621 (right) in the Virgo galaxy cluster. These two galaxies belong to the sample of galaxies that Kormendy and Bender investigated.

Image: courtesy of Sloan Digital Sky Survey/WIKISKY

Astronomers Discover Link Between Supermassive Black Holes and Galaxy Formation

A pair of astronomers from Texas and Germany have used a telescope at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory together with the Hubble Space Telescope and many other telescopes around the world to uncover new evidence that the largest, most massive galaxies in the universe and the supermassive black holes at their hearts grew together over time.

interner Verweis MPE press release

externer Verweis McDonlad Observatory press release

externer Verweis Original publication

(February 02, 2009)
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Galactic Center

The central 25 arcseconds of our Milky Way.

Image: ESO

Unprecedented 16-Year Long Study Tracks Stars Orbiting Milky Way Black Hole

In a 16-year long study, using several of ESO's flagship telescopes, a team of German astronomers has produced the most detailed view ever of the surroundings of the monster lurking at our Galaxy's heart - a supermassive black hole. The research has unravelled the hidden secrets of this tumultuous region by mapping the orbits of almost 30 stars, a five-fold increase over previous studies. One of the stars has now completed a full orbit around the black hole.

interner Verweis MPE press release (in German language)

externer Verweis MPG press release (in German language)

externer Verweis ESO press release
externer Verweis Pictures and videos of the ESO press release
(December 10, 2008)
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