Detection of Intermediate-Period Transiting Planets with a Network of Small Telescopes: transitsearch.org
We describe a project (transitsearch.org) currently attempting to discover transiting intermediate-period planets orbiting bright parent stars, and we simulate that project's performance. The discovery of such a transit would be an important astronomical advance, bridging the critical gap in understanding between HD 209458b and Jupiter. However, the task is made difficult by intrinsically low transit probabilities and small transit duty cycles. This project's efficient and economical strategy is to photometrically monitor stars that are known (from radial velocity surveys) to bear planets, using a network of widely spaced observers with small telescopes. These observers, each individually capable of precision (1%) differential photometry, monitor candidates during the time windows in which the radial velocity solution predicts a transit if the orbital inclination is close to 90°. We use Monte Carlo techniques to simulate the performance of this network, performing simulations with different configurations of observers in order to optimize coordination of an actual campaign. Our results indicate that transitsearch.org can reliably rule out or detect planetary transits within the current catalog of known planet-bearing stars. A distributed network of skilled amateur astronomers and small college observatories is a cost-effective method for discovering the small number of transiting planets with periods in the range 10 days<P<200 days that orbit bright (V<11) stars.