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UK’s Twinkle Satellite will Study Exoplanet’ Atmospheres

UK’s Twinkle Satellite will Study Exoplanet’ Atmospheres

A small satellite named “Twinkle” will be launched in four years and provide new information about exoplanets, according to a press release from University College London (UCL). The details of the mission that will be lead by UCL and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) will be announced Friday at an open meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Twinkle, funded through a mix of private and public finance, also represents a rapid, cost-effective mission at £50 million. This is around a tenth the cost of comparable missions by international space agencies. Largely this is due to innovations by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) who are constructing Twinkle. These innovations have seen them become a successful manufacturer and exporter of satellites. The other factor is the use of off-the-shelf components.

Twinkle’s operational life is three years, with the possibility of an extension of two years or more. It will analyse at least 100 exoplanets in the Milky Way.

Rendering of the Twinkle mission spacecraft, which will be built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Credit: Twinkle/SSTL

Rendering of the Twinkle mission spacecraft, which will be built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Credit: Twinkle/SSTL

“Twinkle is a very ambitious mission,” said lead scientist, Prof. Giovanna Tinetti of UCL. “Nearly two thousand exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than our Sun — have been discovered to date, but we know very little about these alien worlds. We can measure their mass, density and distance from their star. From that, we can deduce that that some are freezing cold, some are so hot that they have molten surfaces, some are vast balls of gas, like Jupiter, or small and rocky, like Earth. But beyond that, we just don’t know. Twinkle will be the first mission dedicated to analysing exoplanets atmospheres, and will give us a completely new picture of what these worlds are really like.”

“The light filtered through the planet’s atmosphere is only about one ten thousandth of the overall light from the star,” said Tinetti. “That’s a big challenge and one that requires a very stable platform outside the screening effects of Earth’s atmosphere.”

‘The UK has already made an outstanding contribution to exoplanet detection with the WASP survey programme. Twinkle is a unique chance for the UK to build on this and take the world lead in understanding exoplanet science, as well as to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers,’ said Prof Jonathan Tennyson, senior advisor for the Twinkle mission.
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