Marc AaronsonMike Brown

Aaronson Lectureship

The next Aaronson Memorial Lecture will be given by Professor Michael E. Brown of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at Caltech on November 21, 2008. This is the public lecture on Friday, entitled "How I killed Pluto and why it had it coming." He will also give the joint NOAO/ Steward colloquium on Thursday, November 20, and will visit both institutions those days.

Following a bachelor's degree from Princeton, Michael got his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1994. His thesis work was on the Io plasma torus, and was supervised by Hyron Spinrad. He then did postdoctoral work at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, before receiving the offer from Caltech.

Mike is known for work on Titan using Keck's AO camera. He mentored Adam Burgasser in the discovery and study of T dwarfs. In recent years he is best known for the discovery of large Kuiper Belt objects, including 2003UB313 (now named Eris), which from HST imaging was found to be 5% larger than Pluto. This result triggered the IAU's reconsideration of Pluto's status as a planet, as either there were now ten planets or only eight. The IAU decided to invent the term "dwarf planet" to cover such icey objects in the outer solar system, much smaller than terrestrial planets and many giant moons in the solar system. It is likely that this topic will be the main theme of Mike's lecture.

For those of you not familiar with this situation, Marc Aaronson came to Steward Observatory as a postdoc after his degree at Harvard in 1977. He rose to the level of Associate Professor in 1983. His astronomical research focussed on some of the most important problems of observational cosmology: the cosmic distance scale, the age of the Universe, the large-scale motion of matter, the distribution of invisible mass in the Universe. He was to be PI of the Hubble Space Telescope key project to determine the Hubble constant from observations of Cepheids in galaxies. This task devolved to Rob Kennicutt and Wendy Freedman. Marc also made important contributions to our understanding of stellar populations in the more local Universe, such as in the Large Magellanic Cloud. In recognition of his research achievements, Aaronson was awarded the George Van Biesbroeck Award by the University of Arizona in 1981, the Bart J. Bok Prize by Harvard University in 1983, and the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize by the American Astronomical Society in 1984.

Above all, Marc displayed a passionate love for astronomy which serves as a lasting inspiration to his many colleagues, students and friends. Marc died in 1987 in a freak accident while doing what he loved most, making astronomical observations. He was only 37 years old. The Aaronson Memorial Lectureship was set up to bring to Tucson a person of similar age who has a similar passionate love for astronomy, and who has contributed an important body of work in at least one area about which they can give a public talk and a colloquium.

Previous Aaronson Prize awardees:

R. Kirshner      1989   Former President AAS
K. Freeman       1990         Heinemann Prize of AAS/AIP, 1999
J. Huchra        1992     Incoming President AAS
N. Scoville      1993      Past Director, Owens Valley Radio Observatory,
                                                  Caltech Executive Off. Astronomy
W. Freedman      1994             Carnegie Observatories Director
A. Tyson         1996  Leading LSST
J. Mather        1998     Nobel Physics Laureate 2006
B. Paczynski     1999  unfortunately deceased
E. van Dishoeck  2001   Director, Sackler Laboratory for Astrophysics,
                                                  Leiden University
G. Marcy         2002  Shaw Laureate in 2005
L. Page          2004   Major player with WMAP
B. Schmidt       2005       Shaw Laureate in 2006
A. Ghez          2007        AAS Pierce Prize 1998, like Marc
                                                  MacArthur Fellow 2008, National Academy of

Aaronson Selection Committee, 2008

deisenstein            Daniel Eisenstein
dzaritsky              Dennis Zaritsky    Andrea Ghez (previous awardee is on next committee)
jbechtold              Jill Bechtold
jliebert               James Liebert      Marianne Kun (Marc's widow, nonvoting)        Joan Najita  Kem Cook (Marc's last student)
sjones                 Sharon Jones (Peter Strittmatter's exec asst., nonvoting)