New astronomy center will reveal the cosmic dawn – University of Copenhagen

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19 April 2017

New astronomy center will reveal the cosmic dawn

New basic research center:

Cosmic Dawn Center (DAWN) is a new basic research centre whose main purpose is to uncover how and when the first galaxies formed. DAWN is a Center of Excellence funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and located at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen in close collaboration with DTU Space.

The new research centre Cosmic Dawn Center (DAWN) is headed by Sune Toft, Associate Professor at the Dark Cosmology Center, Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

When did the first stars, galaxies and black holes form? Right now, we don’t know, because cosmic dawn, i.e. the moment the universe evolved from complete darkness to a transparent and star-studded sky of galaxies, lies just beyond the reach of today’s biggest telescopes.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due for launch in 2018, and the recently-completed Atacama Large (Sub) Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, are two of the most advanced scientific facilities ever constructed. These two super telescopes will make it possible to look directly into the time when the first stars and galaxies formed.

Danish researchers at DTU and NBI have contributed to the construction of JWST and thereby have unique access to the telescope's first observations.

Associate Professor Sune Toft is one of the leading figures in the study of distant galaxies, and with the establishment of DAWN will assemble a team of experts at the Niels Bohr Institute and at DTU Space to exploit the unique access to JWST and ALMA and put Danish research in a leading position in the expected revolution in our understanding of the early Universe.

DAWN will consist of a number of internationally recognised scientists, handpicked from Denmark and abroad, who for many years have each made substantial contributions to our understanding of galaxy formation and development. It is anticipated that DAWN will provide important new information on the creation of the first stars and galaxies—knowledge which is likely to dictate the path of astronomical research for many years to come.

The universe is incredibly complex with structures at all measurable scales, from galaxies, black holes, stars and planetary systems, to complex molecules and biology (at least one of these planets). The seeds of all this complexity was created shortly after the Big Bang, the cosmic dawn, which lasted less than 2% of the universe's current age. Carbon and oxygen which constitute life's fundamental building blocks were first created in the cores of the first stars to ignite during this period. DAWN is thus seeking the answer to one of the oldest fundamental unanswered questions: where do we come from, how did it all begin?

Read also: The Danish National Research Foundation’s ten new Centers of Excellence >>

Sune Toft, Associate professor: Cosmic Dawn Centre (DAWN), Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Phone: +45 61680930, Email:

Hans Ulrik Nørgaard–Nielsen, Senior Scientist at DTU Space, Phone: +45 40201764 Email:

Søren-Peter Olesen, Director of the Danish National Research Foundation, Phone: +45 20289706 Email: