MASCARA, the Multi-site All-Sky CAmeRA, will consist of several fully-automated stations distributed across the globe. Its goal is to find exoplanets transiting the brightest stars, in the mV = 4 to 8 magnitude range, currently probed neither by space- nor by ground-based surveys. The nearby transiting planet systems that MASCARA is expected to discover will be key targets for future detailed planet atmosphere observations. The target population for MASCARA consists mostly of hot Jupiters. The main requirement set on MASCARA to detect these planets around stars down to magnitude 8 is to reach a minimum Signal-to-Noise Ratio of 100 within one hour of observation.
Each MASCARA station consists of five low-noise off-the-shelf full-frame CCD cameras, fitted with standard Canon 24 mm , f/1.4 lenses, monitoring the near-entire sky down to magnitude 8 at that location. Measurements have demonstrated that the required Signal-to-Noise Ratio of 100, can be achieved in less than thirty minutes. MASCARA aims at deploying several stations world-wide to provide a nearly continuous coverage of the dark sky, at sub-minute cadence.
While at the faint end MASCARA is limited mainly by photon noise, at the bright end scintillation and red noise become the limiting factors. Instrumental noise sources are reduced by placing the cameras in a fixed orientation and in a temperature controlled environment. By defocusing and allowing stars to drift over the detector, the impact of pixel-to-pixel variations on the photometry are minimized, while taking exposures at fixed sidereal times allows accurate cross-calibration of consecutive nights. The exposure time of 6.4 seconds gives rise to a high data acquisition rate of a MASCARA station, around 500GB per night. In order to minimize data transport and data storage requirements, the raw images are reduced to produce accurate light curves in nearly real time.
The first MASCARA station will be integrated on La Palma during the summer of 2014. MASCARA test
data were taken in July 2013 with one camera targeting the transiting exoplanet HD 189733b. Its brightness of mV = 7:7 is close to the faint end of the MASCARA magnitude range. The 5 - σ detection of the 2.8% deep transit with a 5-minute binning of the data confirms that we will be able to detect 1% transit at the faint end within one hour.