Mike Brown is a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology.

Mike Brown is a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology.
Image Credit: College of Science

CLEMSON – “Pluto isn’t a planet and never should have been,” said Mike Brown, the infamous “Pluto Killer,” in his Feb. 21 distinguished lectures at Clemson University.

Although a seemingly harsh statement, Brown is the astronomer who’s qualified to make it, for it was his research on the discovery of objects at the edge of our solar system that gave way for the demotion of Pluto in 2006.

Brown – a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology – gave two lectures at Clemson University on Feb. 21: an astronomy colloquium for the College of Science’s 2019 Discover SCIENCE Lecture and a public lecture for the TIGERS ADVANCE Distinguished Speaker Series.

Each lecture took the audience through a chronicled history of how planets like Uranus and Neptune were discovered and how the (now) dwarf planet of Pluto was so easily misclassified for so long. Brown’s 2005 discovery of Eris, the most massive object found in the solar system in 150 years, called into question just what a planet is and should be, leading the International Astronomical Union to propose a formal definition of a planet just one year later.

Brown spent the second part of his Feb. 21 lectures describing his newest evidence for the existence of a true Planet 9, one that is about 10 times more massive than Earth. It was the strange orbits of two planetary objects, Sedna and Biden, that first clued Brown into the search. He predicted that if a Planet 9 were to exist, it would likely have other objects in perpendicular orbit around it, and when he modeled where those objects would be – lo and behold, he discovered six of them.

“Everything we find continues to support the idea that there’s a giant planet out there,” Brown said.

And it’s a finding that could be made as soon as next week, he says.

Both Brown’s 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. lectures on Feb. 21 were well attended by Clemson faculty, staff, students and the general public. For photos from the event, visit the College of Science Facebook page, linked here.