Astronomer Michael E. Brown: Biography & Achievements

Instructor: Lori Jones

Lori has a degree from Stanford, was Principal of a K-12 private school that she started, has a Master's degree, and taught at the high school level.

Michael E. Brown is a well-known American astronomer, teacher, author, and lecturer. In this lesson, we will take a look at his life, some of his work, and his achievements in the field of astronomy.

Michael E. Brown

Some people become famous for inventing a new technological wonder. Others become famous for exploring an unknown region or discovering the cure to a worldwide disease. However, not many people become famous for killing a whole planet. Is that even humanly possible?

If you asked astronomer Michael E. Brown, he would give you a resounding ''yes.'' So, who is this planet-killing Mr. Brown, and what planet did he kill? Let's find out.

Michael E. Brown
Mike Brown


Michael E. Brown was born June 5, 1965 in Huntsville, Alabama. His interest in space science came from his father, an engineer of rocket ship computers on the Saturn V and Lunar Module. After graduating from the Virgil I. Grissom High School in 1983 as a distinguished student, he earned his AB in Physics from Princeton University in 1987. Over the next seven years, he continued his studies, earning both an M.A. and PhD in Astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1990 and 1994 respectively.

While these are notable accomplishments in such a short time, Michael Brown was just getting started. In 1996, he joined the faculty at Caltech, where he teaches both undergraduate and graduate students as a Professor of Planetary Astronomy. His students must enjoy his teaching style, because he was awarded the Richard P. Feynman Award for Outstanding Teaching at Caltech.

In addition to entertaining and instructing his students in the wonders of planetary science, Mike Brown brings his talents to other venues across the country as well, with frequent lectures at astronomical meetings, science museums, planetariums, and various college campuses.

Michael E. Brown married Diane Binney in 2003, with whom he has a daughter named Lilah.

Brown's academic achievements and honors are notable, but let's get to the things he is most well known for, most notably, killing a planet.


Brown is most known for his work on TNOs, trans-Neptunian objects, which are objects beyond Neptune's orbit. His most notable achievement came when, while studying these objects, he discovered Eris, a dwarf planet that's larger than Pluto. At the time, Pluto was still considered the ninth planet. However, Brown's discovery led to the International Astronomical Union removing Pluto from the list of major planets of our solar system and classifying it as a dwarf planet.

Michael Brown likes to refer to himself as ''the man who killed Pluto,'' and even published a book of his TNO discoveries titled How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming in 2010.

Although the discovery of Eris and killing Pluto is Michael Brown's most notable achievement, his contributions don't quite stop there.

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