Sara Seager

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Sara Seager
Sara Seager CHF-Cain-Conference-May-2016-059.jpg
Seager at a 2016 conference
Born (1971-07-21) 21 July 1971 (age 50)[1]
CitizenshipCanada-United States[1]
Alma materHarvard University PhD
University of Toronto BSc
Known forSearch for extrasolar planets
Spouse(s)Charles Darrow
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship (2013)
Helen B. Warner Prize (2007)
Harvard Bok Prize in Astronomy (2004)
NSERC Science and Technology Fellowship (1990–1994)
Order of Canada (2020, Officer)
Scientific career
FieldsAstronomy, Planetary science
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology (2007–)
Carnegie Institution of Washington (2002–2006)
Institute for Advanced Study (1999–2002)
ThesisExtrasolar giant planets under strong stellar irradiation (1999)
Doctoral advisorDimitar Sasselov[3][4]
External video
video icon Sara Seager, “The search for planets beyond our solar system”, TED2015
video icon “Space Experts Discuss the Search for Life in the Universe at NASA”, NASA 2014
video icon “Sara Seager ”, Origins 2011

Sara Seager OC (born 21 July 1971) is a Canadian-American astronomer and planetary scientist.[2] She is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is known for her work on extrasolar planets and their atmospheres. She is the author of two textbooks on these topics,[5][6] and has been recognized for her research by Popular Science,[7] Discover Magazine,[8] Nature,[9] and TIME Magazine.[10] Seager was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013 citing her theoretical work on detecting chemical signatures on exoplanet atmospheres and developing low-cost space observatories to observe planetary transits.[11]


Seager was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and is Jewish.[2][12][13] Her father, David Seager, who lost his hair when he was 19 years old, was a pioneer and one of the world's leaders in hair transplantation and the founder of the Seager Hair Transplant Center in Toronto.[14][15]

She earned her BSc degree in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Toronto in 1994, assisted by a NSERC University Undergraduate Student Research Award, and a PhD in astronomy from Harvard University in 1999. Her doctoral thesis developed theoretical models of atmospheres on extrasolar planets and was supervised by Dimitar Sasselov.[3][4][16]

She held a postdoctoral research fellow position at the Institute for Advanced Study between 1999 and 2002 and a senior research staff member at the Carnegie Institution of Washington until 2006. She joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January 2007 as an associate professor in both physics and planetary science, was granted tenure in July 2007,[17] and was elevated to full professor in July 2010.[18] She currently holds the "Class of 1941" chair.[1]

She was elected a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society in 2020.[19]

She is married to Charles Darrow and they have two sons from her first marriage. Her first spouse, Michael Wevrick, died of cancer in 2011.[20][21]

Academic research[edit]

Seager talking about exoplanets

Seager's research has been primarily directed toward the discovery and analysis of exoplanets; in particular her work is centered around ostensibly rare earth analogs, leading NASA to dub her "an astronomical Indiana Jones."[22] Seager used the term "gas dwarf" for a high-mass super-Earth-type planet composed mainly of hydrogen and helium in an animation of one model of the exoplanet Gliese 581 c. The term "gas dwarf" has also been used to refer to planets smaller than gas giants, with thick hydrogen and helium atmospheres.[23][24] In years since 2020, Sara has been focusing on work related to Venus, with the potential discovery of phosphine, a biosignature gas, in the upper atmosphere.[25]

Seager was awarded the 2012 Sackler Prize for "analysis of the atmospheres and internal compositions of extra-solar planets,"[26] the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 2007 for developing "fundamental techniques for understanding, analyzing, and finding the atmospheres of extrasolar planets,"[27] and the 2004 Harvard Book Prize in Astronomy.[28] She was appointed as a fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012 and elected to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as an honorary member in 2013.[1] In September 2013 she became a MacArthur Fellow.[29] She was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2018.[30] She was the Elizabeth R. Laird Lecturer at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2018.[31] On 19 August 2020 Seager appeared on the Lex Fridman Podcast (#116).[32]

In 2020, she was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada.[33] She won the 2020 Los Angeles Times Book Science and Technology Prize for The Smallest Lights in the Universe.[34]

Seager equation[edit]

Seager developed a parallel version of the Drake equation to estimate the number of habitable planets in the Galaxy.[35] Instead of aliens with radio technology, Seager has revised the Drake equation to focus on simply the presence of any alien life detectable from Earth. The equation focuses on the search for planets with biosignature gases, gases produced by life that can accumulate in a planet atmosphere to levels that can be detected with remote space telescopes.[35]


  • N = the number of planets with detectable signs of life
  • N* = the number of stars observed
  • FQ = the fraction of stars that are quiet
  • FHZ = the fraction of stars with rocky planets in the habitable zone
  • FO = the fraction of stars with observable planets
  • FL = the fraction of planets that have life
  • FS = the fraction of life forms that produce planetary atmospheres with one or more detectable signature gases



  • Deming, Drake; Seager, Sara, eds. (2003). Scientific Frontiers in Research on Extrasolar Planets. ASP Conference Proceedings (Volume 294). San Francisco. Bibcode:2003ASPC..294.....D. ISBN 1-58381-141-9.
  • Seager, Sara (2010). Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400835300.
  • Seager, Sara (2010). Exoplanets. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-2945-2.
  • Seager, Sara (2020). The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir. Crown. ISBN 978-0-5255-7625-9.

Journal articles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Curricula Vitae – Professor Sara Seager" (PDF). 2013. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Jones, Chris (7 December 2016). "'The World Sees Me as the One Who Will Find Another Earth' – The star-crossed life of Sara Seager, an astrophysicist obsessed with discovering distant planets". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 February 2021. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b Back to the thesis: Sara Seager on YouTube
  4. ^ a b Smith, Kerri; Baker, Noah (2016). "Back to the thesis: Late nights, typos, self-doubt and despair. Francis Collins, Sara Seager and Uta Frith dust off their theses, and reflect on what the PhD was like for them". Nature. 535 (7610): 22–25. Bibcode:2016Natur.535...22S. doi:10.1038/535022a. PMID 27383967.
  5. ^ Seager, Sara (2010). Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400835300.
  6. ^ Seager, Sara (2010). Exoplanets. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-2945-2.
  7. ^ "The Fifth Annual Brilliant 10: Worms, planets, extra dimensions: just a few of the things that inspire the most creative young scientists of the year". Popular Science. 13 September 2006. Archived from the original on 21 January 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  8. ^ Witman, Sarah; Grant, Andrew; Svoboda, Elizabeth (20 November 2008). "20 Best Brains Under 40: Young innovators are changing everything from theoretical mathematics to cancer therapy". Discover (magazine). Archived from the original on 9 November 2020. Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  9. ^ Hand, Eric (21 December 2011). "Sara Seager: Planet seeker". Nature. 480 (7378): 437–45. doi:10.1038/480437a. PMID 22193082.
  10. ^ Bjerklie, David (2012). "The 25 Most Influential People in Space" (PDF). Time Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 May 2013.
  11. ^ "MacArthur Fellows: Meet the Class of 2013: Sara Seager". MacArthur Foundation. 25 September 2013. Archived from the original on 21 January 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  12. ^ Cohen, Anne. "Four Jews Win MacArthur 'Genius' Awards". The Forward. Archived from the original on 29 October 2020. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  13. ^ Dashefsky, Arnold; Sheskin, Ira (2014). American Jewish Year Book 2014: The Annual Record of the North American Jewish Communities. Springer. p. 868. ISBN 978-3-319-09623-0.
  14. ^ Jones, Chris (7 December 2016). "The Woman Who Might Find Us Another Earth". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  15. ^ Michael D. Lemonick (2012). Mirror Earth: The Search for Our Planet's Twin. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-8027-7902-1.
  16. ^ Seager, Sara (1999). Extrasolar giant planets under strong stellar irradiation (PhD thesis). Harvard University. Bibcode:1999PhDT........18S. OCLC 43085140. ProQuest 304503987.
  17. ^ "MIT Corporation grants tenure to 50 faculty". MIT News Office. 14 November 2007. Archived from the original on 28 September 2020. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  18. ^ "Corporation announces faculty promotions and appointments". MIT News Office. 29 December 2010. Archived from the original on 28 September 2020. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  19. ^ "AAS Fellows". American Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on 18 March 2021. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  20. ^ Seager, Sara (14 January 2013). "So Many Exoplanets... So Few Women Scientists". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  21. ^ "Obituary: Michael Wevrick". Ottawa Citizen. 13 August 2011. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  22. ^ Rodriguez, Joshua (3 October 2008). "On a quest for astronomy's holy grail". NASA. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ "Of Gas Dwarfs and Waterworlds". Celestia forum. 15 June 2004.
  24. ^ "StarGen – Solar System Generator". 2003.
  25. ^ "Possible Life Signs In The Clouds Of Venus". 2020.
  26. ^ "Sara Seager Named Co-Winner of the 2012 Sackler Prize". MIT News Office. 18 April 2012.
  27. ^ "Helen B. Warner Prize". American Astronomical Society.
  28. ^ "Bok Prize Recipients". Harvard University Department of Astronomy.
  29. ^ "Sara Seager - MacArthur Foundation".
  30. ^ "Election of New Members at the 2018 Spring Meeting". American Philosophical Society.
  31. ^ Foss, Kelly (20 September 2018). "Holy Grail". Gazette – Memorial University of Newfoundland.
  32. ^ "#116 – Sara Seager: Search for Planets and Life Outside Our Solar System". Lex Fridman. 16 August 2020. Archived from the original on 24 October 2020. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  33. ^ "Governor General Announces 114 New Appointments to the Order of Canada". Governor General of Canada. 27 November 2020. Archived from the original on 23 January 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  34. ^ Pineda, Dorany (17 April 2021). "Winners of the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prizes announced". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  35. ^ a b Powell, Devin (4 September 2013). "The Drake Equation Revisited: Interview with Planet Hunter Sara Seager". Astrobiology Magazine. Archived from the original on 25 February 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2021.

External links[edit]