An American astronomer, Michael E. Brown’s specialty is discovering and studying bodies which are located on the edge of the solar system. Along with his team, he discovered trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), most notably Eris and its moon, Dysomnia, in 2005, situated in the Kuiper Belt that rings the outer solar system.
On the back of these discoveries, referring to himself as the one who “killed Pluto”, Mike Brown supported Pluto being downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006.
Early Life and Educational Background
Michael E. Brown was born on 5 June 1955 in Huntsville, Alabama. Mike attended the Virgil I. Grissom High School and graduated in 1983. His father was an engineer who worked on computers in the Saturn V rocket and the Lunar Module. It was this exposure to his father’s work that helped foster his interest for space discovery.
In 1987, Brown earned his Bachelor of Arts in Physics after completing his degree at Princeton University. Brown then continued his education and took graduate courses at the University of California in Berkeley. There he earned his M.A. in Astronomy in 1990. Four years later, he earned his Ph.D.
Brown became a member of the California Institute of Technology’s faculty in 1996 and in 2003 became the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy.
During his academic years and career, he had been the recipient of a number of awards. Brown won the Urey Prize which was given to the best young planetary scientist given by the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences. He also received the Presidential Early Career Award and a Sloan Fellowship. In 2012, he won the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics and in 2014 he was inducted into the National Academy of Science.
Discoveries and Contributions to Astronomy
Brown is mostly known for his discovery of dwarf planet Eris in 2005, which lies at the extremity of our solar system, taking 561 years to make a single trip around the sun. Initially the dwarf planet was thought to be larger that Pluto, but later calculations have found it to have a diameter of 1,445 miles (2,326 kilometers), making it slightly smaller than Pluto. Eris was named after the Greek goddess of discord and strife. The discovery of this new the dwarf planet led to the demotion of Pluto from one of the nine planets of the solar system in August 2006.
Other than Eris, Brown is also known for discovering other trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) at the edge of the solar system including the one moon of Eris, Dysomnia, named after Eris’ daughter, the demon goddess of lawlessness. Brown also discovered the dwarf planet Makemake in 2005, one of the three largest objects in the Kuiper belt alongside Eris and Pluto. It is approximately two thirds the size of Pluto.
Haumea, a dwarf planet being observed by Brown and his team also in 2005, caused some controversy in his career. The discovery of this dwarf planet, however, was announced by José Luis Ortiz Moreno in Spain. Moreno’s team from the Sierra Nevada Observatory was given credit for the discovery and Brown’s team at Caltech were given the credit for naming the planet.
Achievements and Personal Life
In 2006, Brown was included in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. A year later, he received California Institute of Technology’s most prestigious teaching honor, the Feynman Prize. An asteroid discovered on April 28, 1998 was named after him – Asteroid 11714 Mikebrown.
He also published “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming” in 2010, a personal memoir of his discoveries which led to the demotion of Pluto’s planetary status.
On March 1, 2003, Brown married Dianne Binney and he has a daughter, Lilah Binney Brown.