Department of Extraterrestrial Physics

Researching Outer Space in Kiel in Cooperation with the entire World

Abbildung 1: Das Physikzentrum in Kiel
Illustration 1: The Kiel Physics Department on Liebnizstraße. The Department of Extraterrestrial Physics resides in the tower on the left.

Extraterrestrial Physics has existed as an independent department at CAU since 1962. The department belongs to the Institute for Experimental and Applied Physics, and fully participates in teaching matters.

We work in two different groups on a wide spectrum of topics in space research. In addition, we have taken part in many ESA and NASA missions.

Bachelor Work

If you have request please ask the research groups.

In memory of

Prof. Dr. Gerd Wibberenz(* 15.11.1930; †28.05.2017)

Zwei Studenten und eine Tasse Kaffee

The research areas of Prof. Dr. Gerd Wibberenz in the field of extraterrestrial physics were involved in the acceleration, spreading and measurement of energetically charged particles in the Earth's outer space as well as in the interplanetary medium and in planetary magnetospheres. Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Wibberenz, the Christian-Albrechts-Universität has already advanced into space in the 1960s with instruments on the dial and azur research satellites. With the experiment 6 on the two Helios space probes, the first probes that approached the sun as Mercury, and the Federal Republic of Germany on the international parquet of space travel, his success story continued with participations in the Jupiter mission Galileo as well The solar missions Ulysses and SOHO. Always ahead of his time, he developed early models of particle propagation near the sun and in the interplanetary medium. State-of-the-art techniques were used in his working group, and internationalization was not an issue in his world, as he presented them every day at the institute. Prof. Dr. Gerd Wibberenz recognized at an early stage that science - beyond disciplines and national boundaries - has to deal more intensively with the major social challenges. This includes, not least, the topics "Manned space travel, pollution, energy and energy research and peace research". For him, it was important to provide (physical) facts of society as an objective basis for political decisions. He and his commitment will be missing.

First Measurement of Radiation Exposure on Mars.

Kiel Instrument Shows: Exposure Levels for Humans Tolerable

Abbildung 2: Der Marsrover „Curiosity“
Illustration 2: The Mars rover „Curiosity“

Was there or is there life on Mars, and is a manned mars mission possible? In order to answer these questions researchers at Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU) measure the radiation on the red planet. Since it landed on 6. August 2012, the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD, developed at CAU) aboard the Mars rover "Curiosity" has been collecting data on Mars. The first 300 Mars-days of information from the surface of mars hase been evaluated, and on the 9th of December, published in the renowned journal Science.

The study is in cooperation with researchers from the Institute for Experimental and Applied Physics at CAU, NASA, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the German Center for Air and Spaceflight. In this study, the radiation exposure for a human during a 500 day stay on mars was calculated, and with current solar activity, was put at 0.32 Sieverts. The radiation exposure for a 360 day return trip to mars was determined in a previous study.  In a spaceship with the same shielding as Curiosity's, the radiation exposure for a round trip came out to 0.66 Sieverts.

The total exposure therefore lies a bit over the 0.8 Sievert limit that is allowed for Astronauts over their entire career.  Overall, this level of radiation exposure would lead to about a 5% increase in cancer risk. This risk is incomparably small when compared to that of a smoker. Smoking, for example, increases the risk of lung cancer by about 1500%.

"The obtained data are an important step for the realization of a manned mars mission, and could help protect astronauts on future mission through, for example, better shielding of spaceships or through more secure housing on mars." said Kiel Professor Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber. This also allows an estimation of how long and how deep underground any life could survive on Mars, or moreover, for how long signs of past life in surface layers could still be proven.

Original Publication:

The Radiation Environment on the Surface of Mars measured with the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity Rover; Donald M. Hassler, Cary Zeitlin, Robert F. Wimmer-Schweingruber, Bent Ehresmann, Scot Rafkin, Jennifer L. Eigenbrode, David E. Brinza, Gerald Weigle, Stephan Böttcher, Eckart Böhm, Soenke Burmeister, Jingnan Guo, Jan Köhler, Cesar Martin, Guenther Reitz, Francis A. Cucinotta, Myung-Hee Kim, David Grinspoon, Mark A. Bullock, Arik Posner, Javier Gómez-Elvira11, Ashwin Vasavada, and John P. Grotzinger, and the MSL Science Team; Science 2013 (DOI: 10.1126/ science. 1244797).

Available under

Kiel Instrument shows: Manned Mars missions possible. First measurement of Radiation Exposure on a Flight to Mars

Abbildung 3: Der Radiation Assessment Detector
Illustration 3: The Radiation Assessment Detector

In order to be able to send astronauts to mars, it is crucial to understand the radiation inside a spaceship during its travels through space. The first data from the RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector) instrument on board the mars rover "Curiosity" has now been analyzed. The RAD instrument itself was developed by scientists from the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU). The data taken on the way to the red planet indicates: manned trips to mars are possible. The first results were published in the renowned journal Science Thursday, May 30th 2013.

The radiation that RAD measured on the 253 day unmanned flight to mars, corresponds to the radiation that an Astronaut in a spaceship would be exposed to. "Two types of radiation pose a risk for astronauts in space: The bulk of radiation exposure comes from relatively constant cosmic rays. The second part comes from short-term exposure of energetic solar particles, which are produced by solar flares." said Professor Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber, whose research group built the instrument.

In cooperation with NASA, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the German Center for Air and Spaceflight, researchers in this study calculated the total exposure for a person on a 360 day round trip to mars. When similar shielding and solar activity are considered, this comes out to about 0.67 Sieverts. "The exposure therefore lies under the border of roughly 0.8 Sieverts that Astronauts are allowed to be exposed to during their entire career. Manned missions are therefore possible, though not uncritical", explained Physicists Wimmer-Schweingruber.

The data that RAD sent back to earth while underway, and that has been further transmitting since the landing of "Curiosity" on the surface of mars, must now be further evaluated and analyzed. The instrument is continually optimized by Kiel Physicists from earth in oder to obtain the most exact results possible. The obtained data are an important step for the realization of a manned mars mission, and could help protect astronauts on future mission through, for example, better shielding of spaceships.


Original Publication:

Measurements of Energetic Particle Radiation in Transit to Mars on the Mars Science Laboratory; C. Zeitlin, D. M. Hassler, F. A. Cucinotta, B. Ehresmann, R. F. Wimmer-Schweingruber, D. E. Brinza, S. Kang, G. Weigle, S. Böttcher, E. Böhm, S. Burmeister, J. Guo, J. Köhler, C. Martin, A. Posner, S. Rafkin, and G. Reitz; Science 31 May 2013: Vol. 340 no. 6136 pp. 1080-1084, DOI: 10.1126/science.1235989.


weitere Informationen zu RAD.

weitere Informationen zu MSL.

Wake up on Mars - Live Broadcast of the Curiosity Landing on Mars

Abbildung 4: Der Marsrover Curiosity
Illustration 4: The Mars rover Curiosity

During a landing lasting only 7 minutes, the NASA space probe "Mars Science Laboratory" (MSL) should touch down on our neighbor planet. Traveling at 21,000 kilometers per hour, MSL has been under way for the past 8 months. On August 6, 2012 at 07:31 CEST Curiosity will land on our neighbor planet. The precisely planned landing connects an array of new technologies that should softly set the mars-rover down on the surface at about walking speed, complete with the Kiel-made instrument: The Radiation Assessment Detector. We invite you to follow the landing live with participating scientists in the Max-Planck-Hörsaal of the Institute for Experimental and Applied Physics. Things kick off at 6:30.

further Information and Live Coverage.

MSL is on the way to Mars

Abbildung 5: Der Marsrover Curiosity
Illustration 5: Der Mars rover Curiosity

The chances for the start of another Mars mission are looking good. On Saturday the 26th of November 2011, at 16:02 CEST the American space agency NASA wants to send the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) aboard a powerful Atlas V rocket on a 9 month journey to our neighbor planet. On board MSL one can also find the sensor of a radiation instrument developed at the Institute for experimental and Applied Physics at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU). This belongs to the equipment of the included Rover "Curiosity". This instrument from Kiel will measure radiation directly on the Mars surface for the first time.

Solar Orbiter definitively selected

Abbildung 6: Solar Orbiter
Illustration 6: Solar Orbiter

On the 4th of October the ESA-Mission "Solar Orbiter" was definitively selected. Solar Orbiter should research how the Sun generates and effects the heliosphere. The scientific payload consists of 10 instruments, the IEAP is involved with 4 of these, one of which with a massive hardware contribution. The department of Extraterrestrial Physics built the 4 sensors: EPT, HET, SIS, and STEIN, which should measure energetic particles from the sun in a variety of energy ranges.

Further information can be found on the Project Webpage

"FRED is Successfully Flown on the BEXUS13 Stratospheric Balloon"

Abbildung 7: Das RETA-Team for der BEXUS13 Gondel
Illustration 7: The RETA-Team

The Flight Radiation Environment Detector (FRED, developed in Kiel) has successfully taken part in the BEXUS13 Balloon-flight campaign. The altitude dependence of radiation exposure in the atmosphere was researched within the framework of the German Air and Space agency (DLR) and the Swedish National Spaceflight Organization (SNSB) coordinated student program REXUS/BEXUS. The balloon was launched 2011-09-28 from ESRANGE near Kiruna in northern Sweden, and reached an altitude of 25km.

Further information can be found on the Project Webpage