About First Light
Project First Light is an ERC funded research activity whose principal goal is to examine the role that early galaxies played in driving cosmic reionisation. Via deep imaging in blank fields and through gravitationally-lensing clusters, galaxies in the reionisation era are examined spectroscopically using a variety of large ground-based telescopes. Lower redshift analogues of galaxies in the reionisation era are also studied in detail to understand the physical processes by which Lyman continuum photons are produced and can escape into the intergalactic medium. This focused observational activity is supplemented by a theoretical component based on numerical simulations incorporating radiative transfer and the modeling of nebular emission lines as a probe of the nature of the ionising radiation field. The group is actively planning programmes to be undertaken with future facilities including the James Webb Space Telescope - you can read about our accepted proposals on the James Webb Space Telescope here.
Cosmic dawn occurred 250 to 350 million years after Big Bang
24 June 2021
Members of the First Light team claim to have the first convincing evidence for when the first stars and galaxies began to shine. Their analysis indicates that this important moment, known as the “cosmic dawn,” occurred between 250 to 350 million years after the Big Bang. The researchers also calculated that the first galaxies, seen at their birth, will likely be sufficiently luminous to be detected with NASA’s James Webb Telescope due for launch later this year.
Discovering when the cosmic dawn began has been the life’s work of Professor Richard Ellis who commented: “The Holy Grail in observational cosmology has been to look back far enough that one might see the very first generation of stars and galaxies emerging from darkness. We now have convincing evidence of when the universe was first bathed in starlight and hope to soon make direct observations of this event with the James Webb Space Telescope.”
The scientific article, led by Dr Nicolas Laporte with co-authors Romain Meyer and Guido Roberts-Borsani (all former UCL team members) and Richard Ellis is being published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Further details can be found here.
- Publication: Probing Cosmic Dawn : Ages and Star Formation Histories of Candidate z≥9 Galaxies
- News Article (BBC News): Astronomers work out when the first stars shone
James Webb Space Telescope success for First Light group (April 2021)
The First Light group has had great success in the first cycle of accepted proposals for observing time on the James Webb Space Telescope due for launch in October 2021. 5 proposals were accepted where a group member is Principal Investigator, and an additional 4 proposals accepted with a group member as Co-Investigator. This amounts to a total of 235 hours of observing time.
A list of the accepted proposals can be found here.
In addition to the First Light group’s success described above, it is interesting to note that 16% of all 83 accepted JWST proposals in the ‘Galaxies’ category are led by a current or former postdoctoral researcher or student supervised by Professor Ellis. In 1996 Professor Ellis was the only European-based member of the NASA ‘HST and Beyond’ committee that recommended the construction of what became JWST.
Yuichi Harikane wins prestigious award for young scientists (December 2020)
- Inoue Research Award (in Japanese, auto translate available)
Richard Ellis awarded the Michael Faraday Gold Medal and Prize by Institute of Physics (November 2020)
- IOP Press Release
- Interview on Richard’s career beginning and returning to UCL (Interviewed by Anita Maguire, Cosmoparticle Initiative)
Important contribution to understanding when the first galaxies appeared in the Universe
In May 2018, our team made an important contribution towards astronomers' understanding of the timescales during which the first galaxies appeared in the Universe, by studying a galaxy formed 250 million years after the Big Bang. These results come from observations carried out with the ALMA observatory and the Very Large Telescope.
- Publication: The onset of star formation 250 million years after the Big Bang
- News article (BBC News) Scientists detect oxygen legacy of first stars
- YouTube video explaining our result
Significant breakthrough in understanding the early formation of stars
In March 2017, our team made a significant breakthrough in understanding the early formation of stars in the galaxy when the universe was about 4% old. This important breakthrough was reported globally and was the result of our dedicated research into understanding our universe.
- Publication: Dust in the Reionization Era: ALMA Observations of a z=8.38 Gravitionally Lensed Galaxy
- News article (New York Times)
Our project has seen a number of papers published, which are available on UCL Open Access and via our website.
A popular summary of our progress was published in EU Research.
About the Team
The team is led by Professor Richard Ellis, and supported by both Research Associates and PhD students.
There are strong collaborative links with research groups at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, Caltech, the University of Arizona, University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Tokyo. Please see our First Light Team page for more information on the team.