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

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

3. Mellon, M.T., McKay, C.P., Heldmann, J.L. 2014. Polygonal ground in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica and its relationship to ice-table depth and the recent Antarctic climate history. Antarctic Science, 26(4), 413–426.

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

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

6. Segura, T.L., McKay, C.P., Toon, O.B. (2012) An impact-induced, stable, runaway climate on Mars. Icarus 220, 144-148.

7. 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.

8. Suthar, F. & McKay, C.P. (2012) The galactic habitable zone in elliptical galaxies. International Journal of Astrobiology 11, 157 – 161.

9. Gilliam, A. and McKay, C. (2011) Titan under a red dwarf star and as a rogue planet: requirements for liquid methane. Planet. Space Sci. 59, 835-839.

10. 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.

11. McKay, C.P. (2010) Liquid water formation around rocks and meteorites on Antarctic Polar Plateau ice. Antarctic Science 22, 287–288.

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. Manning, C.V., C.P. McKay, K.J. Zahnle (2008) The nitrogen cycle on Mars: Impact decomposition of near-surface nitrates as a source for a nitrogen steady state. Icarus, 197 60–64.

16. Wierzchos, J., C. Ascaso, and C.P. McKay (2006) Endolithic cyanobacteria in halite rocks from the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert. Astrobiology 6.

17. McKay, C.P., Smith, H.D. (2005) Possibilities for methanogenic life in liquid methane on the surface of Titan, Icarus, 178, 274-276.
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
2009 NASA Group Achievement Award Phoenix mission
2012 NASA Presidential Rank Award