Tess Hemmila — Staff Writer
Dr. Channon Visscher, an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Planetary Sciences, has been selected to fulfill a research proposal for NASA. Visscher’s research will focus on the seasonal changes that occur within Saturn’s atmosphere. To complete his proposal, Visscher will partner with Dr. Julie Moses, a Senior Research Scientist at the Space Science Institute (SSI) in Boulder, CO. This research proposal will receive $349,000 in NASA funding to conduct research over the next three years.
Visscher and Moses will use computer models and images taken by various NASA spacecraft to determine the chemistry behind the seasonal changes to Saturn’s atmosphere. Specifically, the researchers will be examining the sunlight-driven photochemistry that they observe in Saturn’s troposphere and stratosphere. Visscher will be focusing on the troposphere while Moses looks at the stratosphere and how the two regions interact. Since the researchers are working in different states, they will each run models in their locations and then compare their findings.
“What’s appealing from NASA’s perspective is we have all this data from spacecrafts…this project will tie together all those observations.”
There are some unique challenges to understanding seasons on Saturn. One is that the Saturn’s rings cast a shadow on the winter hemisphere of the planet, which can impact the seasonal changes for areas in the ring’s shadow.
Another difficulty to understanding the seasons on Saturn is that one year on Saturn is the same as 29 to 30 earth years. To put in perspective, it is roughly July on Saturn, but the summer season could still last for several more years.
“I think what is compelling about this type of research is that it gets at one
of the fundamental driving questions in planetary science: ‘Why does the creation around me—in this case, Saturn—look the way it does?’” said Visscher.
Visscher’s interest in Saturn began early in his academic career. During graduate school, Visscher researched Saturn’s atmosphere and got his research published. Since then, he has conducted post-doctoral research on the atmospheres of Saturn and other planets.
“It stretches the imagination a little more,” said Visscher. “What we consider normal is stretched a bit when we look at these other worlds.”