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 (such as Far-Infrared, X-ray and Gamma-ray) which are only accessible from space because of the absorbing effects of the Earth´s atmosphere, as well as in-situ measurements in near-Earth space investigating the collisionless interaction of cosmic plasmas.
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), X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy (Hasinger), and theory, whereby this group also engages in experimental investigations of colloidal plasmas (Morfill). Within these areas scientists lead individual experiments and research projects organised in about 25 project teams. The research topics 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. Laboratory work at the institute aims at determining energy levels of astrophysicaly relevant molecules at high excitation energies using laser spectroscopy in the vacuum-ultraviolet spectral region.
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. Data-based analysis, investigation of fundamental physical processes, and the development of new methods is most relevant to the theoretical work. 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 ABRIXAS) 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.
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).
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 2002 a total of 264 employees were working at the institute, numbering among them 61 scientist and 65 junior scientists. It also hosted 93 externally funded positions and 36 visiting scientists.
Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik
Further information: http://www.mpe.mpg.de