Nav: Home

Caltech astronomer Mike Brown awarded Kavli Prize in astrophysics

May 31, 2012

PASADENA, Calif.--Mike Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor and professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has been named a co-winner of the 2012 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for his efforts to understand the outer solar system--work that led to the demotion of Pluto.

Brown shares the award with David Jewitt (MS '80, PhD '83) of UCLA and Jane Luu of MIT's Lincoln Laboratory; in 1992, Jewitt and Liu discovered the first object in the Kuiper belt, a collection of more than a thousand objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. Brown, who joined Caltech's faculty in 1997, has since become a leader in the search for planet-sized objects in the Kuiper belt. According to the prize citation, the three received the prize "for discovering and characterizing the Kuiper belt and its largest members, work that led to a major advance in the understanding of the history of our planetary system."

Brown's most well-known discovery came in 2005, when he found a Kuiper-belt object, later named Eris, that is about the same size as Pluto but 27 percent more massive. That finding caused astronomers to rethink the definition of a planet, resulting in the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet.

"Mike spent years acquiring a massive number of images and learning how to process them to accurately detect objects that subtly shift in the sky over successive days--without knowing whether there was anything interesting to be discovered," explains Kenneth Farley, the W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry and chair of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences. "But that dedication was rewarded by the discovery of several fascinating Kuiper-belt objects, and just as important as their discovery was Mike's effort in understanding them--where they came from, how they formed, what they are made of, and what they tell us about our solar system. It is wonderful to see Mike recognized for these contributions."

"This distinguished prize is further acknowledgment of Mike's extraordinary accomplishments and pioneering research that has literally reshaped our understanding of the solar system," adds Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "He is truly a 'renaissance scientist' who approaches teaching and scientific discovery with passion and charisma. We are proud of Mike and are privileged to have him on the Caltech faculty."

"It's humbling to be included alongside previous Kavli Prize winners, from the people whose incredible designs for telescopes enable all of us to make these discoveries to the very pioneers of astrophysics," says Brown. "And it's an amazing reminder that some of the mysteries of the universe are right here in our own cosmic backyard."
-end-
The Kavli Prize, which includes a scroll, a gold medal, and $1 million, recognizes scientists in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience, and has been awarded every other year since 2008. King Harald of Norway will present the prizes to the winners at a ceremony in Oslo on September 4. Caltech's Maarten Schmidt, the Francis L. Moseley Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, won the astrophysics prize in 2008. Past winners who are Caltech alumni include Jerry Nelson (BS '65), Roger Angel (MS '66), and Richard Scheller (PhD '80).

The Kavli Prizes were initiated by and named after Fred Kavli, founder and chairman of the Kavli Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work.

California Institute of Technology

Related Solar System Articles:

From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
Plumbing a 90 million-year-old layer cake of sedimentary rock in Colorado, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University has found evidence confirming a critical theory of how the planets in our solar system behave in their orbits around the sun.
Why are there different 'flavors' of iron around the Solar System?
New work from Carnegie's Stephen Elardo and Anat Shahar shows that interactions between iron and nickel under the extreme pressures and temperatures similar to a planetary interior can help scientists understand the period in our Solar System's youth when planets were forming and their cores were created.
Does our solar system have an undiscovered planet? You can help astronomers find out
ASU's Adam Schneider and colleagues are hunting for runaway worlds in the space between stars, and citizen scientists can join the search with a new NASA-funded website.
Rare meteorites challenge our understanding of the solar system
Researchers have discovered minerals from 43 meteorites that landed on Earth 470 million years ago.
New evidence on the formation of the solar system
International research involving a Monash University scientist is using new computer models and evidence from meteorites to show that a low-mass supernova triggered the formation of our solar system.
Planet Nine could spell doom for solar system
The solar system could be thrown into disaster when the sun dies if the mysterious 'Planet Nine' exists, according to research from the University of Warwick.
Theft behind Planet 9 in our solar system
Through a computer-simulated study, astronomers at Lund University in Sweden show that it is highly likely that the so-called Planet 9 is an exoplanet.
Studying the solar system with NASA's Webb Telescope
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will look across vast distances to find the earliest stars and galaxies and study the atmospheres of mysterious worlds orbiting other stars.
'This solar system isn't big enough for the both of us.' -- Jupiter
It's like something out of an interplanetary chess game. Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in another planet's ejection from the Solar System altogether.
IBEX sheds new light on solar system boundary
In 14 papers published in the October 2015 Astrophysical Journal Supplement, scientists present findings from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, mission providing the most definitive analyses, theories and results about local interstellar space to date.

Related Solar System Reading:

Hello, World! Solar System
by Jill McDonald (Author)

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Space (National Geographic Little Kids First Big Books)
by Catherine D. Hughes (Author), David A. Aguilar (Illustrator)

There's No Place Like Space: All About Our Solar System (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library)
by Tish Rabe (Author), Aristides Ruiz (Illustrator)

Solar System Scratch and Sketch: An Activity Book For Inquisitive Artists and Astronauts of All Ages
by Heather Zschock (Author)

Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond (National Geographic Kids)
by David A. Aguilar (Author), David A. Aguilar (Illustrator)

Solar System Reference Poster
by Kappa Map (Author)

Solar System: A Visual Exploration of the Planets, Moons, and Other Heavenly Bodies that Orbit Our Sun
by Marcus Chown (Author)

Our Solar System (Science for Toddlers)
by American Museum of Natural History (Author), Connie Roop (Author), Peter Roop (Author)

13 Planets: The Latest View of the Solar System (National Geographic Kids)
by David A. Aguilar (Author)

The Magic School Bus Lost In The Solar System
by Joanna Cole (Author), Bruce Degen (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

The Right To Speak
Should all speech, even the most offensive, be allowed on college campuses? And is hearing from those we deeply disagree with ... worth it? This hour, TED speakers explore the debate over free speech. Guests include recent college graduate Zachary Wood, political scientist Jeffrey Howard, novelist Elif Shafak, and journalist and author James Kirchick.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#486 Volcanoes
This week we're talking volcanoes. Because there are few things that fascinate us more than the amazing, unstoppable power of an erupting volcano. First, Jessica Johnson takes us through the latest activity from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii to help us understand what's happening with this headline-grabbing volcano. And Janine Krippner joins us to highlight some of the lesser-known volcanoes that can be found in the USA, the different kinds of eruptions we might one day see at them, and how damaging they have the potential to be. Related links: Kilauea status report at USGS A beginner's guide to Hawaii's otherworldly...