Danish Involvement with the European Southern Observatory

Denmark joined the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in 1967, soon after the founding of the organisation.

ESO contracts totalling at least 13 million euros have been awarded to Danish industry over the period since 1994.

Discoveries by Danish astronomers using ESO telescopes

Danish astronomers and astronomers working at Danish institutes were involved in the following scientific discoveries that resulted in ESO science press releases:

  • A team including Lise Christensen (University of Copenhagen), Javier Gorosabel (Danish Space Research Institute), Bjarne Thomsen (University of Århus) performed observations with telescopes at the ESO La Silla and Paranal observatories, to measure the distance of a Gamma-Ray Burst, which turned out to be the most remote one ever observed at that time. eso0034
  • Johannes Andersen (Copenhagen Observatory) was part of the team that used UVES to measure for the first time the amount of the radioactive isotope Uranium-238 in a star that was born when the Milky Way was still forming. It was the first measurement ever of uranium outside the Solar System. eso0106
  • Frank Grundahl (University of Aarhus) was a member of the Large Programme devoted to the analysis of globular cluster dwarf stars. These stars ought to have about the same abundances of most chemical elements. Nevertheless, the team  found large abundance variations from star to star, especially for the common elements Oxygen, Sodium, Magnesium and Aluminium. This phenomenon has never been seen in such stars before. eso0107
  • Bjarne Thomsen (Institute of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus) was part of the team which performed the VLT observations that gave support to computer models of the early Universe. The observations indicate the Universe is "spongy", with galaxies forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spiders web. eso0120
  • Hans Bruntt (Aarhus University) was part of the team that detected the first solar-type oscillations in a star very different from the sun, Hya. eso0215
  • Jens Hjorth, Páll Jakobsson, Holger Pedersen, Kristian Pedersen and  Darach Watson (Astronomical Observatory, NBIfAFG, University of Copenhagen), Johan Fynbo (Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Aarhus) and their team, using UVES, managed to demonstrate that some distant Gamma-Ray Bursts are linked to hypernovae, a type of very energetic supernovae. eso0318
  • Holger Pedersen (Astronomical Observatory Copenhagen) was part of a team that discovered the unexpected polarisation of the light in a Gamma-Ray Burst afterglow. eso0335
  • Birgitta Nordström (Niels Bohr Institute for Astronomy, Physics and Geophysics), Johannes Andersen and J. Holmberg (Astronomical Observatory, Copenhagen), Erik Olsen (Astronomical Observatory, Copenhagen) were part of the group that determined the motion of over 14 000 solar-type stars in our Milky Way, leading to a much more detailed understanding of the dynamics of our galaxy. eso0411
  • Jens Hjorth (Dark Cosmology Centre - DARK, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen) and his team managed to secure the first observations of the aftermath of a Short Gamma-Ray Burst in visible light. eso0533
  • Uffe Gråe Jørgensen (Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen) and the PLANET collaboration reported the discovery of a 5 earth-mass exoplanet using the microlensing technique. This was the first super-earth discovered. eso0603
  • Johan Fynbo and Jesper Sommer-Larsen (DARK Cosmology Centre, Copenhagen) and their team used the VLT and discovered a very distant blob of hydrogen gas falling onto a dark matter clump, likely to be the early stage in the formation of a galaxy. eso0623
  • Frank Grundahl (University of Aarhus) contributed to measuring the lithium content of old stars in a globular cluster; the analysis suggests that the amount of lithium in the stars’ atmosphere decrease with time, explaining the strangely low value measured. eso0630
  • Johan P. U. Fynbo, Darach Watson, Christina C. Thöne, Tamara M. Davis, Jens Hjorth, José Mará Castro Cerón, Brian L. Jensen, Maximilian D. Stritzinger, Jesper Sollerman, and Dong Xu (Dark Cosmology Centre, University of Copenhagen) discovered a new type of Gamma-Ray Bursts, distinct from the previously known “long” and “short” ones. eso0649
  • A team including Paul Vreeswijk and Daniele Malesani (Dark Cosmology Centre University of Copenhagen), using the TORTORA camera, the REM telescope on La Silla and the VLT, measured and characterized an extremely bright Gamma Ray Burst, the brightest recorded to date. eso0808
  • Fynbo and J. Hjorth (Dark Cosmology Centre, Copenhagen) and their team measured a Gamma-Ray Burst at a redshift of 8.2, which was then the most distant object known in the Universe. eso0917
  • B. James (University of Copenhagen) contributed to a study that demonstrated that most of the supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies in the past 11 billion years were not turned on by mergers between galaxies, as had been previously thought. eso1124
  • T. Krühler (Dark Cosmology Centre, University of Copenhagen) was part of the team that measured the metal content of two very distant galaxies using the brief flash of a background Gamma-Ray Burst; they found them much richer than expected. eso1143
  • U. G. Jørgensen (Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen) was part of the group that surveyed million of stars in the Milky Way and concluded that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. eso1204
  • Jes K. Jørgensen (University of Copenhagen) led the team that used ALMA and discovered glycolaldehyde (a simple form of sugar) in the gas surrounding a young Sun-like star. eso1234
  • Christa Gall (Aarhus University, Denmark) and Jens Hjorth (Dark Cosmology Centre, University of Copenhagen) were part of a team that used ESO’s Very Large Telescopes to follow stardust being made in real time — during the aftermath of a supernova explosion. eso1421
  • Giorgos Leloudas (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen) led a team that used several ESO telescopes to study a bright flash, initially thought to be the brightest supernova ever seen, and discovered that it was actually probably produced by a star being swallowed by a black hole. eso1644

Additional Involvement

The Danish 1.54-metre telescope is situated at La Silla Obervatory. The telescope has allowed astronomers to make several first discoveries. In 2005 astronomers showed that short, intense bursts of gamma-ray emission most likely originate from the violent collision of two merging neutron stars, ending a long debate (eso0533). In 2006, astronomers using a network of telescopes scattered across the globe, including the Danish 1.54-metre telescope, discovered an exoplanet only about five times as massive as the Earth, and circling its parent star in about ten years (eso0603). This telescope has also been used to produce many impressive astronomical images.

Denmark also played a role in the development of instrumentation for the VLT:

  • eso0920 First light of the X-shooter instrument, a joint project by Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and ESO. The collaborating institutes in Denmark are the Niels Bohr and the DARK Institutes of the University of Copenhagen and the National Space Institute (Technical University of Denmark).

Number of Danish astronomers and staff working at ESO

As of June 2017 there are six Danish nationals employed at ESO or working in Garching.

Danish industrial contracts with ESO

This table lists a selection of the larger contracts (bigger than 20000 euros) awarded to Denmark over the period since 1994. They are grouped according to large projects (VLT/operations, ELT and ALMA).

TERMA IT network support
TERMA OSC contract
Terma A/S OSC Service 2005
Terma A/S TERMA Contract Extension
AQUA Swimming pool for hotel
Crystal Fibre A/S Hollow core fibre
Rovsing A/S Software Engineering Services
ROVSING Software engineer contract (3)
COWICONSUL Consulting services
ROVSING DB content manager
TERMA Software engineer
ROVSING DACC2 contract
ROVSING Archive operator
GPV Electronics A/S Population and testing of HO-CODE PCB
Terma A/S OSC Service 2006
Department of Psychology Optimiz. Perform., Health, Safety in High Altitude Observat.
RISOE Consultancy
TERMA Additional costs
KOHERAS Seed Fibre Laser
TICRA Optics verification analysis
Force Technology ELT Wavefront real-time computer scale one demonstrator
Kirkholm Maskiningeniorer A/S Conceptual Design of Pre-Focal Station for 39m Option
COWI A/S Consultancy for Investment decision
Rovsing A/S SW Verification and Validation Process Study
Kirkholm Maskiningeniorer A/S Analysis support