As in previous years, the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) invited 40 girls to the annual Girls' Day. On this occasion, the Bavarian minister for work and family Emilia Müller visited the Institute and accompanied the girls for some parts of the programme. The interesting questions by the young visitors demonstrated that also this year the Girls' Day at MPE was a great success.
Zooming in on black holes is the main mission for the new GRAVITYinstrument, built by a large team of European astronomers and engineers led by the MPE, and now installed at ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. During its first observations, GRAVITY successfully combined starlight using all four Auxiliary Telescopes.
MPE astronomers have been scouring cosmic images of X-ray emission, hunting for elusive clues that reveal the culprit responsible for violent acts that have left deep scars on the heart of the Milky Way. The prime suspect is the supermassive black hole lurking at the centre of the Milky Way, with a number of massive stars also implicated as suicide bombers.
Astronomers in Hawaii, Leiden and at MPE have used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and found the clearest indications yet that planets with masses several times that of Jupiter have recently formed in the discs of gas and dust around four young stars. Measurements of the gas around the stars also provide additional clues about the properties of those planets.
Using archival data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, as well as from the XMM-Newton and Chandra X-ray telescopes, a team of astronomers at the MPE have discovered a gigantic black hole, which is probably destroying and devouring a big star in its vicinity. With a mass of 100 million times more than our Sun, this is the largest black hole caught in this act so far.
New observations of the giant elliptical galaxy, Messier 87, have revealed that it has swallowed an entire medium-sized galaxy over the last billion years. For the first time a team of astronomers at MPE and other institutes has been able to track the motions of 300 glowing planetary nebulae to find clear evidence of this event.