World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Michael E. Brown

Mike Brown
Born (1965-06-05) June 5, 1965
Nationality American
Fields Planetary astronomy
Education Princeton University, UC Berkeley
Doctoral students Jean-Luc Margot, Chad Trujillo, Marc Kuchner
Known for Discovery of Eris and other trans-Neptunian objects
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
Spouse Diane Binney
Children 1

Michael E. Brown (born June 5, 1965) is an American astronomer, who has been professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) since 2003.[1] His team has discovered many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), notably the dwarf planet Eris, the only known TNO more massive than Pluto.[2] He has referred to himself as the man who "killed Pluto",[3][4] because he furthered Pluto being downgraded to a dwarf planet in the aftermath of the discovery of Eris and several other probable trans-Neptunian dwarf planets. He is the author of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, published in 2010.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Discoveries 2.1
    • Haumea controversy 2.2
    • Other work 2.3
  • Honors, awards and accolades 3
  • Students and postdocs 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Footnotes 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Brown is a Huntsville, Alabama, native and graduated from Virgil I. Grissom High School in 1983. He earned his A.B. in physics from Princeton University in 1987, where he was a member of the Princeton Tower Club. He did his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley where he earned an M.A. degree in astronomy in 1990 and a Ph.D. degree in astronomy in 1994.[1]



Trans-Neptunian objects discovered: 16
(126154) 2001 YH140 [1] December 18, 2001
(126155) 2001 YJ140 [1] [5] December 20, 2001
(55565) 2002 AW197 [1] January 10, 2002
(119951) 2002 KX14 [1] May 17, 2002
Quaoar [1] June 4, 2002
(84719) 2002 VR128 [1] November 3, 2002
(120178) 2003 OP32 [1] [2] July 26, 2003
Sedna [1] [2] November 14, 2003
Orcus [1] [2] February 17, 2004
Salacia [3] [4] September 22, 2004
(120348) 2004 TY364 [1] [2] October 3, 2004
Haumea [1] [2] [6] December 28, 2004
Eris [1] [2] January 8, 2005
Makemake [1] [2] March 31, 2005
(136199) Eris I Dysnomia [7] September 10, 2005
(225088) 2007 OR10 [2] July 17, 2007
Other objects discovered
(87) Sylvia I Romulus[8] February 18, 2001
(22) Kalliope I Linus[8] August 29, 2001
1 with Chad Trujillo
2 with David L. Rabinowitz
3 with Henry G. Roe
4 with Kristina M. Barkume
5 with Glenn Smith
6 sole credit went to José Luis Ortiz Moreno et al.
7 with M. A. van Dam, A. H. Bouchez, D. Le Mignant
8 with Jean-Luc Margot

Brown is well known in the scientific community for his surveys for distant objects orbiting the Sun. His team has discovered many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). Particularly notable are Eris, a dwarf planet and the only TNO known to be more massive than Pluto, leading directly to Pluto's demotion from planet status;[2][5] Sedna, a planetoid thought to be the first observed body of the inner Öpik–Oort cloud; and Orcus.

Brown's team famously named Eris and its moon Dysnomia with the informal names Xena and Gabrielle, respectively, after the two main characters of Xena: Warrior Princess.

Haumea controversy

Brown and his team also had been observing the dwarf planet Haumea for approximately six months before its announced discovery by José Luis Ortiz Moreno and colleagues from the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Spain. Brown originally indicated his support for Ortiz's team being given credit for the discovery of Haumea. However, further investigation showed that a website containing archives of where Brown's team's telescopes had been pointed while tracking Haumea had been accessed eight times in the three days preceding Ortiz's announcement, by computers with IP addresses that were traced back to the website of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (CSIC, Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia), where Ortiz works, and to e-mail messages sent by Ortiz and his student. These website accesses came a week after Brown had published an abstract for an upcoming conference talk at which he had planned to announce the discovery of Haumea; the abstract referred to Haumea by a code that was the same code used in the online telescope logs; and the Andalusia computers had accessed the logs containing that code directly, as would be the case after an internet search, without going through the home page or other pages of the archives.[6] When asked about this online activity, Ortiz responded with an email to Brown that suggested Brown was at fault for "hiding objects", and said that "the only reason why we are now exchanging e-mail is because you did not report your object."[7] Brown says that this statement by Ortiz contradicts the accepted scientific practice of analyzing one's research until one is satisfied that it is accurate, then submitting it to peer review prior to any public announcement. However, the Minor Planet Center only needs precise enough orbit determination on the object in order to provide discovery credit, which Ortiz provided.

The then director of the IAA, José Carlos del Toro, distanced himself from Ortiz, insisting that its researchers have "sole responsibility" for themselves. Brown petitioned the International Astronomical Union to credit his team rather than Ortiz as the discoverers of Haumea. The IAU has deliberately not acknowledged a discoverer of Haumea. The discovery date and location are listed as March 7, 2003 at Ortiz's Sierra Nevada Observatory. However, the IAU accepted Brown's suggested name of Haumea, which fit the names of Haumea's two moons, rather than Ortiz's Ataecina.

Other work

In 2010 Brown published a memoir of his discoveries and surrounding family life, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.

Honors, awards and accolades

Brown was named one of Time's 100 most influential people of 2006.[8] In 2007 he received Caltech's annual Feynman Prize, Caltech's most prestigious teaching honor. Asteroid 11714 Mikebrown, discovered on 28 April 1998, was named in his honor.[9] In 2012, Brown was awarded the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics.[10]

Students and postdocs

Brown's former graduate students and postdocs include astrophysicists Adam Burgasser, Jean-Luc Margot, Chad Trujillo, Marc Kuchner,[11] Antonin Bouchez, Emily Schaller,[11] Darin Ragozzine,[11] and Megan Schwamb.[11]

Personal life

Brown married Diane Binney on March 1, 2003.[12] They have one daughter, Lilah Binney Brown, born July 7, 2005.[13] Brown in 2010 published a memoir of his discoveries and surrounding family life, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ Astronomer Who ‘Killed’ Pluto to Present Annual Science Lecture. Sarah Lawrence College – News and Events. April 13, 2009, retrieved January 11, 2011
  5. ^ Kenneth Chang: The War of the Worlds, Round 2. The New York Times, January 10, 2011, retrieved January 11, 2011
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Caltech Astronomer Lauded for 'Killing' Pluto, 2012, Scitech Today
  11. ^ a b c d
  12. ^
  13. ^

External links

  • Brown's homepage
  • Michael E. Brown at the Internet Movie Database
  • Michael E. Brown on Twitter (plutokiller)
  • Mike Brown's planets Brown's blog
  • Brown's Talk on How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming Part of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series
  • Works by or about Michael E. Brown in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.