Doing “Home-work” with Twinkle – studying objects in our own Solar System

In addition to studying exoplanets, Twinkle will be capable of making observations in our own Solar System that could help scientists understand planetary formation and evolution theories.

Our team of astronomers at UCL have conducted a visibility study of potential Solar System targets, including planets, moons and asteroids, using the latest specifications for the Twinkle mission. We used the celestial coordinates of objects to work out when a target would lie within the patch of sky at which Twinkle can be pointed (Twinkle’s field of regard). Then, by calculating the number of photons received from a wide variety of celestial bodies, we estimated the observation time required to gather photometric and spectroscopic data.

We found that, in general, celestial bodies lie within Twinkle’s field of regard for long periods of time – in some cases up to 80 days! For brighter targets (e.g. planets and some of their larger moons), high resolution spectroscopic data could be obtained within a single, relatively short observation. For other, smaller, fainter or more distant targets, multiple observations will be required. Our analysis also showed that hundreds of asteroids are potentially observable by Twinkle.

A paper, “Remote Sensing Characterisation of Solar System Bodies with a Small Space Telescope”, is being submitted to the journal, Experimental Astronomy. Having found that the Solar System is teeming with potential targets for Twinkle, additional work is planned to further understand Twinkle’s capabilities and to model the potential data collected. In the future, we may adapt this work into a web interface that would enable potential users of Twinkle to assess the satellite’s capability to conduct Solar System science.