Michael E. Brown

Michael E. Brown
Michael (Mike) E. Brown
Michael E. Brown
Trans-Neptunian objects discovered: 14
(50000) Quaoar [1] June 4, 2002
(84719) 2002 VR128 [1] November 3, 2002
(90377) Sedna [1] [2] November 14, 2003
(90482) Orcus [1] [2] February 17, 2004
(119951) 2002 KX14 [1] May 17, 2002
(120178) 2003 OP32 [1] [2] July 26, 2003
120347 Salacia [3] [4] September 22, 2004
(120348) 2004 TY364 [1] [2] October 3, 2004
(126154) 2001 YH140 [1] December 18, 2001
[1] [5] December 20, 2001
(136108) Haumea [1] [2] [6] December 28, 2004
(136472) Makemake [1] [2] March 31, 2005
(136199) Eris [1] [2] January 8, 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
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
5 with Jean-Luc Margot

Michael E. Brown (born June 5, 1965) has been a 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 humorously 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 trans-Neptunian dwarf-planet candidates. He is also the author of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, published in 2010.



Youth and education

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.Sc. in astronomy in 1990 and a Ph.D. in astronomy in 1994.[1]


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, the only TNO discovered that may be more massive than Pluto,[2][5] and is one of a number of dwarf planets in the Solar System; 90377 Sedna, a planetoid thought to be the first observed body belonging to the inner Öpik–Oort cloud; and 90482 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.

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]

Students and postdocs

Brown's former graduate students and postdocs include astrophysicists Jean-Luc Margot, Chad Trujillo, Marc Kuchner,[10] Emily Schaller,[10] Darin Ragozzine,[10] and Megan Schwamb.[10]

Personal life

Brown married Diane Binney on March 1, 2003.[11] They have one daughter, Lilah Binney Brown, born July 7, 2005.[12] 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 Brown, Michael. "Curriculum vitae". http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/papers/cv.html. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  2. ^ a b Michael E. Brown and Emily L. Schaller (2007). "The Mass of Dwarf Planet Eris" (abstract page). Science 316 (5831): 1585. Bibcode 2007Sci...316.1585B. doi:10.1126/science.1139415. PMID 17569855. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/316/5831/1585. 
  3. ^ Brown, Mike (2010). How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. ISBN 0385531087. 
  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. ^ Brown, Michael. "The electronic trail". http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/planetlila/ortiz/. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  7. ^ Overbye, Dennis (2005-09-13). "One Find, Two Astronomers: An Ethical Brawl". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/13/science/space/13plan.html?ei=5090&en=7f5f96302a67ae30&ex=1284264000&emc=rss&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  8. ^ Lemonick, Michael D. (2006-04-30). "Mike Brown: Pluto's Worst Nightmare". Time. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1187237,00.html. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  9. ^ "11714 Mikebrown (1998 HQ51)" (online). JPL Small-Body Database Browser. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=11714+Mikebrown. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  10. ^ a b c d Michael E. Brown. "Research". Caltech. http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/research.html. Retrieved 2011-01-03. 
  11. ^ Brown, Michael. "Mike and Diane's Fabulous Wedding Web Page". http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/mdfw/. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  12. ^ Brown, Michael. "Lilah Binney Brown". http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/lilah/. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  • Wilkinson, Alex (2006-07-24). "The Tenth Planet". The New Yorker: pp. 50. 

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