Astrophysics: A look into Space
If we want to see what Aristotle saw, we need only look to the stars. Since Aristotle's work on astronomy, milestones like Galileo's telescope, Kepler's laws and Newton's theory of gravitation have helped us increasingly understand the universe. Discoveries in recent years in particular have broadened our understanding of the cosmos to an unexpected extent. The list of current questions is long and diverse. How, for example, did the universe come to be? Or, which processes underlie the formation of planets?
Our Fascination with Astronomy
Even the earliest cultures were fascinated by the starry sky and built places of worship dedicated to its observation - many of which are now considered world heritage sites. Here they established the basis for calendars and are thus a foundation of today's society. Astronomy's power to captivate has in no way lessened over time - it transcends borders as no other natural science, attracting people of all ages and spanning diverse disciplines including physics, chemistry, biology, geosciences and even theology and philosophy. Astronomy makes a crucial contribution to general human interest in (natural) sciences and is thus an investment in the future.
Space as a Cosmic Laboratory
Astrophysics examines the universe as a whole as well as all of its components, such as stars, planets and galaxies. How did they come to exist? How have they developed? In the process, astrophysics makes use of methods in the sciences and humanities, particularly mathematics, chemistry and biology. Astrophysics is a fundamental science: in space we find extreme conditions in terms of temperature, magnet field, mass, dimension and density. Space is thus a cosmic laboratory where we can examine phenomena and material conditions which couldn't be produced in laboratories on Earth, even with great technical investment.
What is to be researched?
The basic scientific questions of astrophysics to be addressed in the next twenty years are identified in the ASTRONET report of 2007, "A Science Vision for European Astronomy", and the earlier DFG memorandum on "Status and Prospects of Astronomy in Germany 2003 - 2016" (for the English version see Wiley-VCH).
The most important are:
- How did the universe as a whole come to exist and what are its cosmological parameters?
- What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy in the cosmos?
- Are there previously undiscovered material states of extreme density and temperature?
- How do the extremely high-mass black holes come to develop?
- What are the functional principles of cosmic particle accelorators and the sources of highly energetic cosmic rays?
- Are there new fundamental principles in nature, undiscovered symmetries or physical laws?
- How did the spacious structure of the universe develop?
- How do Neutrinos impact cosmic development, how great is their mass and what is their nature?
- How do galaxies form and continue to develop? How did the structure, dynamic and chemical development of our Milky Way come to exist?
- How does the cosmic matter circuit function? Which processes underlie the interaction between stars, supernovas and the interstellar medium?
- How do stars come to exist and develop? What were the properties of the first generation of stars? How and when did they come to be?
- What processes underlie the formation of planets? What are the properties of extra solar planets and their atmospheres? Are there signs of biological activity?No Experiments
Astrophysics differs from all other natural sciences in one aspect: experiments cannot be carried out. With the exceptions of the moon landing, in situ investigations in our solar system through space probes, and analysis of dust in the lab, as well as material that falls to Earth (meteorites and small bodies, primarily from our solar system) - astrophysics relies on the study of electromagnetic rays as wells as cosmic particles that reach us from space.
BMBF-Funded Large-Scale Equipment
Scientists are studying these research topics with the following ground-based large-scale equipment which is funded by the BMBF:
European Southern Observatory (ESO):
Max Planck Society (MPG) and Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP):
- Paranal Observatory, Very Large Telescope (VLT): 4 telescopes with 8.2 m mirror diameter each, location: Chile,
- La Silla Observatory, location: Chile,
- Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), location: Chile,
- Studies in context with the proposed European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), location: Chile.
Max Planck Society (MPG):
- Large Binocular Telescope (LBT): two mirrors with 8.4 m diameter each; location: Mount Graham, Arizona, USA.
Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP):
- Calar Alto Observatory, location: Spain,
- Millimetric Radio Astronomy Institute (IRAM), location: France
Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics (KIS), Astrophysical Institute Potsdam (AIP) and Max Planck Society (MPG):
- STELLA, location: Tenerife, Spain
Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ), Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG), Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP):
- Solar telescope GREGOR, location: Tenerife, Spain
- Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) location: The Netherlands, 5 stations in Germany
Participating Research Institutes
European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics, Freiburg
Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching
Max Planck Institute for Extra-terrestrial Physics, Garching
Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn
Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau