The Search for Life in the Universe
May 27, 2021 7:30 AM
Dr. John S. Mulchaey
The Search for Life in the Universe

“The Search for Life in the Universe”

No topic is of greater interest to today’s astronomers – and the public – than the search for evidence of life elsewhere in our solar system and far beyond.  Over the past decade, and especially in the last few years, a series of remarkable discoveries increasingly indicates that life forms must exist beyond Earth:  recent observations of water geysers observed on one of Saturn’s moons and ice on Mars are just two “nearby” examples, and the trillions of galaxies in the Universe must contain other types of life as well. 

Detecting the faraway evidence of life elsewhere is also one of the most complex challenges in astronomy today, involving both observational astronomers – those using telescopes for visual data – and theoretical astronomers, who deploy state-of-the-art technologies to analyze observational data and patterns.  Dr. Mulchaey’s talk will discuss both types of research underway at Carnegie Observatories, and how Carnegie astronomers and their colleagues worldwide are collaborating to address this exciting challenge.

Dr. John S. Mulchaey, Director and Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair at The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science

The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science is Pasadena’s oldest scientific establishment.  Founded in 1904, today The Observatories is world-renowned for its research on the evolution of the universe.

Mulchaey earned his B.S. in Astrophysics from UC Berkeley, and his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Maryland.  He was a Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellow before joining the scientific staff in 1999, and served as Associate Director for Academic Affairs before being named The Observatories’ 11th Director in 2015. Today, Mulchaey oversees Carnegie’s campus in Pasadena as well as The Observatories’ large-telescopes facility in Las Campanas, Chile.  He is also on the board for the Giant Magellan Telescope, a next-generation telescope being designed in Pasadena. 

Mulchaey’s research focuses on a range of key astronomical issues, including dark matter and black holes. In 1993, he led the team that discovered large amounts of dark matter in the local universe, findings that received front-page coverage in The New York Times and a feature in Time magazine.  In 2016, Mulchaey appeared in the press as part of the team that identified a mysterious fast radio burst for the first time.  He is also a frequent consultant to NASA and the National Science Foundation.

In addition to his research, Mulchaey is actively involved in public outreach and educational activities throughout Los Angeles. He created the annual Carnegie Observatories Astronomy Lectures, a popular series held each spring at The Huntington Library.  He also hosts astronomy nights at many schools and civic organizations.  He secured funding for the creation of science rooms at three local elementary schools, and founded a summer internship program for gifted college and university students.  In October 2019, he was featured in “Discovering the Universe,” an episode of the KCET/SoCal Public Television series LOST LA.