Chris McKay

Contact Information
Sr. Scientist
Email :
Professional Background
Ph.D. in AstroGeophysics from the University of Colorado in 1982
Research Interests: 
My research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. I'm also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human exploration. I have been involved with polar and desert research, traveling to the Antarctic Dry Valleys, the Atacama Desert, the Arctic, and the Namib Desert to conduct research in these Mars-like environments.

Select Publications: 
1. Williams, K.E., McKay, C.P., Heldmann, J.L. (2015) Modeling the effects of Martian surface frost on ice table depth. Icarus 261, 58–65.

2. McKay, C.P. (2015) Testing the Doran summer climate rules in Upper Wright Valley, Antarctica. Antarctic Science 27(4): 411 – 415.

3. Andersen, D.T., McKay, C.P., and Lagun, V. (2015) Climate conditions at perennially ice-covered Lake Untersee, East Antarctica. J. Appl. Meteor. Climatol., 54, 1393–1412.

4. Stern, J. C., Sutter, B., Freissinet, C., Navarro-González, R., McKay, C. P., Archer, P. D., ... & Ehlmann, B. (2015). Evidence for indigenous nitrogen in sedimentary and aeolian deposits from the Curiosity rover investigations at Gale crater, Mars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112 (14): 4245-4250.

5. Williams, K.E. and McKay, C.P. (2015) Comparing flow-through and static ice cave models for Shoshone Ice Cave. International Journal of Speleology, 44 (2), 115-123.

6. McKay, C.P. (2014) Requirements and limits for life in the context of exoplanets. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 111(35), 12628-12633.

7. Davila, A. F., and McKay, C. P. (2014). Chance and Necessity in Biochemistry: Implications for the Search for Extraterrestrial Biomarkers in Earth-like Environments. Astrobiology 14, 534–540.

8. McKay, C. P., Anbar, A.D., Porco, C., & Tsou, P. (2014). Follow the Plume: The Habitability of Enceladus. Astrobiology 14, 352–355.

9. McKay, C.P. et al. (2013) The Icebreaker Life Mission to Mars: A search for biomolecular evidence for life. Astrobiology 13, 334-353.

10. McKay, C.P. (2012) Full solar spectrum measurements of absorption of light in a sample of the Beacon Sandstone containing the Antarctic cryptoendolithic microbial community. Antarctic Science, 24, 243-248.

11. Navarro-González, R., Vargas, E., de la Rosa, J., Raga, A.C., and McKay, C.P. (2010) Reanalysis of the Viking results suggests perchlorate and organics at mid-latitudes on Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research, 115, E12010, doi:10.1029/2010JE003599.

12. McKay, C.P. (2009) Biologically reversible exploration. Science 323, 718.

13. McKay, C.P. (2009) Snow recurrence sets the depth of dry permafrost at high elevations in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Antarctic Science, 21, 89-94.

14. McKay, C.P., C.C. Porco, T. Altheide, W.L. Davis, T.A. Kral (2008) The possible origin and persistence of life on Enceladus and detection of biomarkers in the plume. Astrobiology 8, 909-919.

15. McKay, C.P., Smith, H.D. (2005) Possibilities for methanogenic life in liquid methane on the surface of Titan, Icarus, 178, 274-276.

16. McKay, C.P., K.P. Hand, P.T. Doran, D.T. Andersen, and J.C. Priscu, Clathrate formation and the fate of noble and biologically useful gases in Lake Vostok, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30, 10.1029/2003GL017490, 2003.

17. McKay, C.P., J.B. Pollack, R. Courtin, The greenhouse and antigreenhouse effects on Titan. Science, 253, 1118-1121, 1991.

18. McKay, C.P., O.B. Toon, and J.F. Kasting, Making Mars habitable. Nature, 352, 489-496, 1991.

19. Reynolds, R.T., C.P. McKay, J.F. Kasting, Europa, tidally heated oceans, and habitable zones around giant planets. Adv. Space Res., 7, 125-132, 1987.

20. McKay, C.P., Exobiology and future Mars missions: The search for Mars' earliest biosphere. Adv. Space Res., 6 (12), 269-285, 1986.

21. McKay, C.P., G.D. Clow, R.A. Wharton, Jr. and S.W. Squyres, The thickness of ice on perennially frozen lakes. Nature, 313, 561-562, 1985.

22. Pollack, J.B., O.B. Toon, T.P. Ackerman, C.P. McKay and R.P. Turco, Environmental effects of an impact generated dust cloud: Implications for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinctions. Science, 219, 287-289, 1983.
Other Information
Awards and Other: 
1981 United States Antarctic Service Medal
1989 Urey Prize of the Division of Planetary Sciences
2004 NASA Exceptional Leadership Medal
2005 NASA Ames Honor Award - Mentor
2005 Int. Soc Study Origin Life Fellow
2006 Am. Geophys Union Fellow
2012 NASA Presidential Rank Award
2015 Nevada Medal