The foundation of the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy in 1969 came from the insight that a nationwide institute, furnished with powerful telescopes, was necessary in Germany if up-to-date research in the field of optical astronomy was to be possible again and research abroad was to be caught up with. The Max Planck Institute of Radioastronomy in Bonn, the Max Planck Institutes of Extraterrestrical Physics and Astrophysics in Garching, the Max Planck Institute of Aeronomy in Lindau as well as the department Cosmophysics of the Max Planck Institute of Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg deal with related questions that complement one another: observing in neighbouring spectral areas (radioastronomy, x-ray astronomy), systematical use of not ground-based observing methods (balloons, high-altitude research rockets, satellites and space probes) and theoretical treatment of astrophysical questions.
The Max Planck Institute of Astronomy consists of two parts: the central institute in Heidelberg was completed in 1975 and attends to the preparation and performance of astronomical observations and the development of new instruments and measurement techniques used on our telescopes. The close cooperation of scientists and technical staff is a typical feature of our Institute as almost every new astronomical question also implies new technical problems. In the years 1973 to 1985, together with Spanish offices, the German-Spanish Astronomical Center was set up on Calar Alto near Almeria (in the climatically favourable Andalusia) for the telescopes of the Institute. The facilities in Heidelberg and on Calar Alto are available to all German astronomers as well as to foreign guests.
As the construction of the Calar Alto Observatory is finished it is still necessary to keep the large telescopes competitive worldwide and to maintain state-of-the-art technology. For this purpose the institute has competent technical departments. In autumn 1996 the system ALFA, which had been built together with the Max Planck Institute of Extraterrestrical Physics in Garching, was put into operation on the 3.5m-telescope. This is one of the first systems of adaptive optics to work with an artificial laser guide star generated at an altitude of 90 km. With this, disturbances in real-time which are left on the telescopic image by the atmospherical turbulences can be eliminated: within the focal plane of the telescope a clear picture is produced which had so far been possible only in space outside any disturbing influences of the atmosphere of the earth.
Today, the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy in cooperation with the Steward Observatory (Arizona) and other American, Italian and German institutes, has a share in the construction of the Large Binocular Telescope. Here, two telescopes with 8.4 m opening each are carried by one common construction. With this ambitious project the Institute remains on the forefront of the development in optical telescopes.
Apart from building instruments for the Calar Alto, the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy is involved in the construction of the infrared camera CONICA and the infrared interferometer MIDI for the Very Large Telescope, a system of 8m-telescopes built by ESO (European Southern Observatory) on Mount Paranal in Chile. Furthermore, there is close cooperation with UKIRT, the British 3.9m-infrared telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
During the constructiontime of the observatory the scientists and technical staff of the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy collected first astronomical observation experiences with rocketflights and with telescopes which were lifted up to an altitude of 40 km by a balloon. This field of work was further extended after the Calar Alto Observatory was put into operation: today, with the construction, operation and use of the instrument ISOPHOT the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy together with numerous European institutes has a substantial share in the Infrared Satellite Observatory (ISO). The satellite completed a complex observing programme on its earth orbit from autumn 1995 to April 1998.
Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie
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