Dr. Channon Visscher, professor of chemistry and planetary sciences at Dordt University, is part of a collaborative team that has been awarded a grant totaling $687,182 by NASA’s Exoplanets Research Program (XRP).
The name of the grant is “A Theoretical and Laboratory Study of Refractory Cloud Formation in Exoplanet and Brown Dwarf Atmospheres.” It was led by NASA scientists at the Goddard Spaceflight Center with researchers at Dordt through the Space Science Institute (SSI) and at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin).
The program seeks to improve our understanding of how clouds form on planets outside our Solar System. While clouds on Earth consist of water, other planets have more variety, including rocky or even metallic clouds. In this research project, scientists at NASA-Goddard will combine experimental measurements of possible cloud materials with theoretical chemical models performed at SSI/Dordt and spectroscopic predictions (exploring how light interacts with different materials) from researchers at UT-Austin to apply to new observations from the James Webb Telescope (JWST).
“It's an exciting project to be a part of because it combines experimental, theoretical, and observational work into a single project,” says Visscher. “This research will help us better understand the formation and behavior of these types of clouds and also how they shape the appearance of exoplanet atmospheres.”
The research seeks to answer the question, “why do these planets look the way they do?” By doing so, scientists like Visscher look to explore planetary formation and the processes that shape their atmospheres over time. This information can also be applied to planets in our own Solar System, offering clues about their formation and development.
In the summer of 2023, Visscher served as co-investigator on the JWST project “Exometeorology: Weather on an Isolated World beyond Our Own,” using instruments on JWST to look for weather variations in the atmosphere of a cloudy brown dwarf.
In 2022, Visscher was also awarded a $44,201 grant through SSI for a project called “Precision Tests of the Physics of Mixing in Cool Planetary and Brown Dwarf Atmospheres.”
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, Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education, Forbes.com, Washington Monthly, and Princeton Review.