Donald E. Brownlee

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Donald Eugene Brownlee
Born (1943-12-21) December 21, 1943 (age 79)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Known forco-originator of the term Rare Earth
AwardsJ. Lawrence Smith Medal, Leonard Medal, NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement
Scientific career
FieldsAstrobiology, Astronomy
InstitutionsUniversity of Washington at Seattle

Donald Eugene Brownlee (born December 21, 1943) is a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington at Seattle and the principal investigator for NASA's Stardust mission.[1] In 2000, along with his co-author Peter Ward, he co-originated the term Rare Earth, in reference to the possible scarcity of life elsewhere in the universe.[2] His primary research interests include astrobiology, comets, and cosmic dust.[3] He was born in Las Vegas, Nevada.[4]

Education and employment[edit]

Brownlee studied electrical engineering at University of California, Berkeley, prior to attending graduate school at the University of Washington. Brownlee received his doctorate in astronomy from the University of Washington in 1971,[5] joining the astronomy department as faculty in 1975. He has also conducted research as a distinguished visiting professor at the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago. Alongside paleontologist Peter Ward, Brownlee is the coauthor of two books, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (which put forth the Rare Earth Hypothesis)[2] and The Life and Death of Planet Earth.


Asteroid 3259 was named after Brownlee in 1991.[6] The International Mineralogical Association has also named a new mineral in honor of Donald Brownlee. This new silicide mineral (with chemical formula MnSi) is now called brownleeite, and is the first mineral found from a comet.[7][8] He has been awarded the J. Lawrence Smith Medal[9] from the National Academy of Sciences, the Leonard Medal from the Meteoritical Society, and the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 2007. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995.


  1. ^ Stardust | JPL | NASA
  2. ^ a b Matt Williams (29 July 2020). "Beyond "Fermi's Paradox" IV: What is the Rare Earth Hypothesis?". Universe Today. Retrieved 6 June 2021. Origins: The term "Rare Earth" takes its name from the book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe (2000), by Peter Ward and Donald E. Brownlee ... As the authors describe it, the Rare Earth argument comes down to two central hypotheses ... making Earth a very special place
  3. ^ The Universe - Spaceship Earth on YouTube
  4. ^ Brownlee, Donald E(ugene) 1943-. Contemporary Authors. January 1, 2005.
  5. ^ University of Washington Astronomy Department
  6. ^ University of Washington Astronomy Department 1990-91 Faculty Research Report (Report). 1990–1991. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  7. ^ | Like a rock: New mineral named for UW astronomer | University of Washington News and Information Archived 2008-07-08 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Showstack, Randy (2008-06-24). "News: In Brief". Eos Archives. Vol. 89, no. 26. p. 235. doi:10.1029/2008EO260004.
  9. ^ "J. Lawrence Smith Medal Recipients". 1994. Retrieved 11 April 2021.