The Multi-site All-Sky CAmeRA — low-cost hot Jupiter hunter
Built and operated by Leiden University, MASCARA (the Multi-site All-Sky CAmeRA) is a planet-hunting instrument that consists of two individual stations, one operating in each hemisphere. Each station contains a battery of cameras in a temperature-controlled enclosure which will monitor almost the entire sky visible from its location. This means that MASCARA’s cameras will remain fixed while in operation, with no need to track the stars across the sky as other telescopes do; they will make use of short exposures (3–6 seconds) to avoid stars producing trails on the detector.
Currently two MASCARA stations are in operation. The first station, in the northern hemisphere on the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, has been fully operational since February 2015. The second station takes advantage of the excellent observing conditions at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.
With both stations installed, MASCARA can obtain an all-sky coverage, monitoring all stars down to magnitude 8.4.
MASCARA’s low-cost design appears unassuming, but it is innovative, flexible, and highly reliable. Consisting of five digital cameras with off-the-shelf components, this small planet-hunter takes repeated measurements of thousands of stars and uses software to hunt for the slight dimming of a star’s light as a planet crosses its disc. This exoplanet discovery method is called transit photometry.
The planet’s radius, mass and density can be directly determined by this method, and in very bright systems the planet's atmosphere can also be characterised.
The main purpose of MASCARA is to find exoplanets around the brightest stars in the sky, currently not probed by either space- or ground-based surveys. The target population for MASCARA consists mostly of “hot Jupiters” — large worlds that are physically similar to Jupiter but orbit very close to their parent stars, resulting in high surface temperatures and orbital periods of only a few hours.
MASCARA also has the potential to discover super-Earths and Neptune-sized planets. The project is expected to provide a catalogue of the brightest nearby targets for future exoplanet characterisation missions, particularly for detailed observations of planetary atmospheres.
More about MASCARA
- Read more about this telescope on the MASCARA website
- Agreement to site MASCARA station at La Silla
- Science paper on the design and operation of MASCARA