Dordt University professor involved in groundbreaking research on lunar and planetary science

Dordt University Associate Professor of Chemistry and Planetary Science Dr. Channon Visscher will be involved in several research projects related to lunar and planetary science.

Dordt University Associate Professor of Chemistry and Planetary Science Dr. Channon Visscher will be involved in several research projects related to lunar and planetary science.

First, NASA has selected five research teams to collaborate on lunar science and lunar sample analysis research as part of its Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). SSERVI was created to provide collaborative scientific research in partnership with future human and robotic exploration of the Moon, near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and their near space environments. The NASA Artemis Program plans to send humans back to the Moon within the next decade, with landings in the south polar region.

Visscher will be part of the Center for Lunar Origin and Evolution (CLOE) team, which will investigate fundamental questions related to the understanding of the origin of the Solar System and the conditions of Earth-Moon formation. The five-year, $7.5 million grant on lunar science includes more than eight institutions around the country and will be led by Dr. William Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Solar System Science and Exploration Division located in Boulder, Colorado.

Those involved in CLOE hope to consider questions about what conditions led to the formation of the Moon and where the Moon originated from. Working closely with researchers from SwRI, Purdue University, University of Colorado-Boulder, and the University of Chicago, Visscher’s research will focus primarily on the chemical implications of different lunar formation scenarios.

In addition to working with SSERVI, Visscher recently learned that two proposals where he will serve as a co-investigator have been selected by the Space Telescope Science Institute. Both proposals involve observing time with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), where the telescope will provide images of the proposals’ targets of interest. One project will track clouds across different types of brown dwarfs; another project will track cloud and weather variations on an exoplanet-analog brown dwarf. Brown dwarfs are objects that are heavier than planets but fall short of being stars.

“There are far more requests for JWST time than actual time that exists,” explains Visscher. “Because it’s so competitive, it’s exciting to be able to get observation time to better understand, for example, cloud formation and weather across a range of brown dwarf classes.”

Visscher will work on the chemical models of clouds. “I’m trying to see if we can match what we expect in the chemical models to what we observe in reality,” he says. “Based on the observational data that we "retrieve from JWST, what do we think the atmosphere looks like? We’re trying to match the models with observations to better understand what’s happening on these objects.”

Visscher’s research influences his teaching, but his teaching also influences his research efforts.

“Science is active. We’re on the edge of discovery and learning new things every day,” he says. “With my students, I hope to convey that sense of wonder. There’s an inherent curiosity we share about the structure and unfolding of creation: why does the universe look this way? How does it work? How did it get this way? I think teaching has helped me see the bigger picture in my research; it’s made me more patient, and it’s reminded me to be more thoughtful about putting together all these pieces as we learn more about these worlds without end.”

About Dordt University

As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, Dordt University equips students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community to work toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. Located in Sioux Center, Iowa, Dordt is a comprehensive university named to the best college lists by U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education,, Washington Monthly, and Princeton Review.

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