- Remote sensing of the atmosphere of Mars
- Developing radiative transfer techniques in planetary atmospheres
- Infrared and submillimeter spectroscopy
- Instrument development: Infrared Spectrometers
- Space mission operations
- Spacecraft/Rover operations - Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover.
Dr. Alain Khayat is an early career Mars atmospheric scientist focusing on the remote sensing of the Martian atmosphere using spectral and imaging data from spaceflight missions, currently a research astrophysicist in planetary studies at the Planetary Systems Laboratory (PSL), working as a NASA civil servant for the US government. He conducts peer-reviewed, NASA grant-supported research of the atmosphere of Mars to collect and analyze spectral and imaging data from a multitude of spaceflight missions, including, but not limited to, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the Perseverance rover and the HOPE mission’s Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS). His research primarily focuses on developing and applying multi-wavelength (submillimeter to UV) atmospheric radiative transfer models to interpret spectroscopic and imaging data from orbiting spacecrafts, rovers and Earth-based observatories to provide insights into understanding the composition and surface interactions, structure and evolution of the Martian atmosphere and its climate. Dr. Khayat takes advantage of a multitude of instruments for planetary exploration including spectrometers like hyperspectral imagers, echelle spectrometers and heterodyne receivers. Throughout his presence at the PSL and with the combination of mission work and proposal-supported research projects, he was able to win NASA awards such as the NASA ROSES Mars Data Analysis Program (MDAP), the Planetary Data Archiving, Restoration, and Tools (PDART), and the FLaRe Internal Scientist Funding Model at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).
Some of his research highlights include the first detection of a high-altitude ozone layer on Mars over the north polar region using solar occultation observations from the ExoMars TGO. This impacts the way we perceive the photochemistry of ozone, an element that plays an important role in helping to stabilize the Martian atmosphere and surface habitability. He also performs spatially resolved retrievals of water vapor over the north polar cap of Mars, the major source of atmospheric water on the red planet, in order to provide insights into the non-uniform sublimation of water ice. Using a technique he developed to retrieve water vapor abundances over surface ice using observations returned by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer on Mars (CRISM) aboard MRO, he provided the water cycle over the pole, and performed high-spatial retrievals to allow the first direct observation of the enhancement of water vapor over the polar troughs on Mars through wind and surface interactions, also known as the katabatic (north-south) jumps, indicating their important role in driving the ice migration in the pole. Dr. Khayat also conducts mission operations of the Curiosity rover at Gale crater on Mars, and provided atmospheric data to study the dust cycle, especially during the 2018 global dust storm (2018GDS). He acquired data of carbon monoxide using the Submillimeter Array (SMA) during multiples phases of the 2018GDS to provide insights into the evolution of the thermal structure of Mars during dust global storms by analyzing the changes in the spectral feature of carbon monoxide in the submillimeter. Using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) echelle spectrometer (CSHELL), Dr. Khayat reported spatially-resolved measurements of atmospheric ratio [HDO]/[H2O], indicating a strong dependence on local time, which was observed for the first time. A global ratio larger than unity indicates water loss from the Martian atmosphere throughout billions of years. Another research highlight includes developing and leading a 3-year campaign targeting volcanic gases on Mars using ground-based observatories such as the IRTF, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), and the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO), indicating the lack of major volcanic outgassing on current day Mars, and pointing to a non-volcanic origin of a prior release of methane on the red planet. Dr. Khayat is leading a NASA research program from PDART to archive the atmospheric data products by CRISM for the entire lifetime of the instrument (~ 6 Mars years, 12 Earth years), including abundance maps of water vapor, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, observations of oxygen dayglow, vertical distributions of water ice and dust as well as their particle sizes from CRISM limb observations, and column integrated dust and water ice aerosol opacity.
For information on how to formally request an interview with Dr. Alain Khayat, fill out the online request form through NASA's Speakers Bureau, and/or email Dr. Khayat for more information on how to fill out the form.