Exoplanets in the Antarctic Sky. I. The First Data Release of AST3-II (CHESPA) and New Found Variables within the Southern CVZ of TESS
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2019. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved. Located at Dome A, the highest point of the Antarctic plateau, the Chinese Kunlun station is considered to be one of the best ground-based photometric sites because of its extremely cold, dry, and stable atmosphere. A target can be monitored from there for over 40 days without diurnal interruption during a polar winter. This makes Kunlun station a perfect site to search for short-period transiting exoplanets. Since 2008, an observatory has existed at Kunlun station, and three telescopes are working there. Using these telescopes, the AST3 project has been carried out over the last 6 yr with a search for transiting exoplanets as one of its key programs (CHESPA). In the austral winters of 2016 and 2017, a set of target fields in the southern continuous viewing zone (CVZ) of TESS were monitored by the AST3-II telescope. In this paper, we introduce the CHESPA and present the first data release containing photometry of 26,578 bright stars (). The best photometric precision at the optimum magnitude for the survey is around 2 mmag. To demonstrate the data quality, we also present a catalog of 221 variables with a brightness variation greater than 5 mmag from the 2016 data. Among these variables, 179 are newly identified periodic variables not listed in the AAVSO database (https://www.aavso.org/), and 67 are listed in the Candidate Target List. These variables will require careful attention to avoid false-positive signals when searching for transiting exoplanets. Dozens of new transiting exoplanet candidates will be released in a subsequent paper.