Project (2016-)

History of Astrophysics, Astronomy, and Space Sciences in the Max Planck Society

Within the program History of the Max Planck Society (Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft), this project has followed a wide range of scientific traditions in astronomy, astrophysics, and the space sciences as they developed under the auspices of one of the world’s most important scientific organizations: the Max Planck Society. It provides an extensive analysis of scientific practice since 1945 through the lens of the cosmic sciences using the Max Planck Society as a window into the history of contemporary science and twentieth-century Germany. The cosmic sciences presented some of the most spectacular successes of the second half of the twentieth century: the theoretical understanding of the life and death of stars; the extension of observational astronomy to cover all wavelengths, from radio astronomy to gamma rays; and the amalgamation of particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology that led to the rise of astroparticle physics and multi-messenger astronomy. Scientific fields are studied as they emerged and in the context of their interconnectedness under a unifying perspective that transverses the intimacy of scientific practice and the overarching historical forces that defined the century. The research project has focused on institutes of the Max Planck Society conducting research in astronomy, astrophysics, and space research and whose history is shaped by the interaction of independent—and sometimes rival—communities working increasingly towards coordination by taking advantage of socio-political opportunities to grow further. The internal expansion towards adjacent new fields and the incorporation of external researchers and traditions resulted in the creation of several new astronomically-oriented Max Planck Institutes, which in turn shaped their further evolution. Such microcosm of the contemporary scientific world contains an in-depth account of many of the central developments of the physical sciences in the twentieth-century.

The results of the project will be published in the forthcoming volume Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Science in the Max Planck Society (Brill, 2022).