NASA planetary scientist Christopher McKay will present "The search for life on other planets, with an update from the Mars Curiosity Rover" in the 13th annual Halliday Lecture on Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m. at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz. Admission is $3 and tickets are available from santacruztickets.com.

McKay is a planetary scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames Research Center. His current research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He was a co-investigator on the Huygens probe to Saturn's moon Titan in 2005, the Mars Phoenix lander mission in 2008, and the current Mars Science Laboratory mission.

NASA's Curiosity Rover landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and McKay will present the current status of the rover's search for organics in the Martian soil and the prospects for determining the habitability of the site. If Curiosity finds organics on Mars, the next challenge will be to determine if they are of biological or non-biological origin. McKay is actively involved in planning for future Mars missions, including human exploration. He has studied life in Mars-like environments on Earth, such as the Antarctic dry valleys, Siberia, the Canadian Arctic, and the Atacama, Namib, and Sahara deserts.

There are other worlds in the Solar System that are also of keen interest in the search for life. McKay said his favorite is Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn.

The Halliday Lecture Series is presented by the UC Santa Cruz Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the UC Observatories. Originally created by a generous gift from benefactor John Halliday, this lively and engaging lecture series is designed for the general public. This year's lecture has been generously sponsored by Steve Mandel and Carol Foote. The generous support of private donors maintains the lecture series, bringing the message and excitement of astronomy to scientists and lay citizens alike, while presenting the work of external and UCSC scientists to the community.

A limited number of complimentary tickets are available for UCSC students. For more information about this event, call (831) 459-2844 or email sciences@ucsc.edu.