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The EXPLORE Project: A Deep Search for Transiting Extrasolar Planets

G. Mallen-Ornelas (Princeton U.) S. Seager (IAS) H. Yee (U. Toronto) T. Brown (High Altitude Observatory) M. Gladders (Carnegie) L. Eyer (Princeton U.) K. von Braun (G) (U. Michigan) C. Blake (U) (Princeton U.) B. Lee (G) (U. Toronto) S. Ellison (ESO) G. Mallen-Fullerton (O) (Universidad Iberoamericana)

We propose a search for transiting short-period extrasolar planets using the MOSAIC wide-field imagers on the KPNO 4m and CTIO 4m telescopes. Our goal is to detect transiting planets and to derive statistics of planet frequency, radius, and mass for stars ranging from types early G to late K. Planet transits will be detected via 1% photometric precision lightcurves with 3-minute time sampling spanning 18 nights per run. Transit searches will mark a new era in planetary discovery and characterization. Planet radii, which provide constraints on composition, evolution, and migration history, can only be measured for transiting planets. In addition absolute planet mass can be determined with follow-up radial velocity measurements. Our 2001 search with the CTIO 4m has demonstrated our technique: we have reached a relative photometric precision of 0.2-1% on 37,000 stars. Our lightcurve database will have unprecedented time sampling and very high photometric precision for hundreds of thousands of stars, enabling new research on variable and binary stars, short microlensing events, and moving objects such as asteroids.