Enlisting amateur astronomers in support of Twinkle’s mission

Unravelling the story of 100 planets in our galaxy is an ambitious goal for a small mission like Twinkle. We are now in the process of writing the prologue to that story by finalising the preliminary list of exactly which planets Twinkle will study (look out for an announcement soon).

There are a number of ways in which we can prepare the ground for Twinkle’s observations and maximise the chances that scientists using Twinkle will secure high-quality data to decode the chemical make-up of exoplanet atmospheres. Firstly, we will focus on hot, Jupiter-like planets orbiting close to their star, providing Twinkle’s instruments with the brightest objects possible from which to extract the spectral information. Secondly, we will gather as much information as possible on the target planetary systems so that we can build up a picture of how they vary over time and understand what that can tell us about the transiting planets and host stars.

This latter challenge ideally requires frequent observations from locations spread around the world. To achieve this mammoth task, the Twinkle science team is proposing to invite the global amateur astronomy community for their support in providing observations of Twinkle’s target list.

On 9th January, Twinkle organised a workshop in collaboration with the British Astronomical Association (BAA) to explore the scope of amateur support for Twinkle. Twenty-seven keen participants gathered at Burlington House in Piccadilly to discuss the mission and the steps needed to start building a worldwide network of amateur observers dedicated to exoplanet transit studies. Discussions suggest that useful ground-based observations of target stars brighter than V=11.5 can be carried out using modest-sized telescopes equipped with CCD cameras.

We hope very much that this will be the first in a series of meetings to cement links and develop productive collaborations between Twinkle and the amateur community. We are very grateful to Richard Miles and Roger Pickard of the BAA for their help in organising and promoting the meeting.