Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyKavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research

Exploring the universe with satellites, earth-based observatories and laboratory experiments

The MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI) got its start in 1965 as the MIT Center for Space Research and joined the Kavli family in 2004. It engages in a mix of longstanding research activities, such as satellite-based X-ray astronomy, and newer projects including the search for dark matter and the study of distant planets.

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Leadership

Robert Simcoe

Director, Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research

Marshall Bautz

Associate Director, Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research

AREAS OF INQUIRY

  • DETECTION OF DARK MATTER: Data from the Big Bang and observation of vast structures such as galaxy clusters indicate that most of the mass in the universe exists in a form that cannot be seen or measured like ordinary matter. MKI scientists are developing new methods to detect this “dark matter,” including a gas-based technology that may show not only the presence of dark-matter particles but the direction that they travel.
  • OBSERVING EXTRA-SOLAR PLANETS: MKI is a leader in the study of planets outside our Solar System, one of the booming fields in astronomy. Through TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), MKI has discovered more than a thousand exoplanets, with more to come.
  • STUDYING THE “DARK AGES” OF THE UNIVERSE: MKI is engaged in space- and earth-based projects to study the universe as it was just before the first stars and galaxies appeared. Neutral hydrogen present at the time produced radio waves that are arriving billions of years later on a frequency just above the FM radio band. Kavli researchers are building an array of receivers in Western Australia – far from interfering radio broadcasts – to pick up those signals and observe the universe just before its first light.
  • GRAVITATIONAL ASTROPHYSICS: When black holes collide or supernovas collapse, these violent events send out ripples in space-time. These gravity waves are predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, but only now are researchers developing tools sensitive enough to detect them. MIT and now MKI have played a key role in building facilities such as LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. With LIGO, Kavli scientists have seen an explosion of new knowledge about the nature of gravity and the dynamics of the cosmos.

    The Planet Hunter

    The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is an Explorer-class planet finder. In the first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey, TESS will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. MKI led the development of TESS, along with MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and NASA.

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