Twinkle: a new mission to study distant planets
By Oli Usher, on 9 February 2015
A new satellite for observing extrasolar planets could be in orbit within four years, under plans drawn up by UCL and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). The Twinkle satellite, pictured above, will observe the light of distant stars with planets orbiting them.
As a planet passes between the star and Twinkle’s telescope, a small amount of the light passes through its atmosphere, imprinting on it the chemical signature of its atmosphere. This technique has been used by Hubble to analyse the atmospheres of a handful of exoplanets, but the Twinkle team hopes to probe at least 100 during the spacecraft’s mission.
UCL leads a consortium of UK institutes who will construct Twinkle’s scientific instrumentation, a highly precise infrared spectrometer which can tease out the faint signature of the planetary atmospheres from the starlight.