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Meet the Curator

Dr. Michael M. Shara

Curator and Curator-in-Charge, Department of Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences; and curator of Einstein

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Dr. Shara and his research group are conducting an exhaustive survey to inventory and "weigh" all 100,000 stars nearest to Earth. More than one billion stars are being examined in the search. The survey has already determined that many low luminosity stars remain undiscovered just a few light-years away, and that a significant portion of the local "dark" matter is concentrated in stars 100 to 100,000 times fainter than the Sun.

Dr. Shara uses the Hubble Space Telescope to survey the densest cores of globular clusters to retrieve and characterize the predicted collision products. These include some of the most exotic stars known to astrophysicists: "blue stragglers." By accurately weighing these stars, Shara and his collaborators have demonstrated that many are at least twice as massive as all other stars in a globular cluster. This strongly supports the hitherto theoretical collisional origin for blue stragglers.

Read an interview with Dr. Shara about the Einstein exhibition.

Prior to joining the Museum in 1999, Michael Shara was with the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins for 17 years, where he was responsible for the peer review committees for the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Shara received his Ph.D. in 1977 from Tel-Aviv University. He holds a M.Sc. and B.Sc. from the University of Toronto, and studied mathematics at McGill University. He has been both visiting and adjunct professor at Columbia University; associate astronomer and astronomer with tenure at Space Telescope Science Institute; visiting assistant in the Department of Physics at Arizona State University; and National Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physics at the University of Montreal. He was a graduate student and research assistant in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Tel-Aviv University and the Department of Astronomy at the University of Toronto. Dr. Shara's research interests include the structure and evolution of novae and supernovae; collisions between stars and the remnant descendants of those collisions; and the populations of stars inhabiting star clusters and galaxies. He has served on the National Science Foundation Compact Stars Review Panel, Infrared Processing and Analysis Center User's Committee, Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory User's Committee, and NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database Project Advisory Committee, among others.

Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History

The Museum's Department of Astrophysics, created in July 1999 and chaired by Michael Shara, conducts an ambitious research program, provides scientific expertise in supporting the education and outreach activities of the Frederick Phineas & Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space, and conveys the excitement of modern astronomy to the public.

The department is actively carrying out research in observational, theoretical, and computational astrophysics. Museum scientists are using all the tools available to modern astrophysicists-ground and space-based telescopes, supercomputers, and visualization tools-many of which are located within the facility. Active research collaborations exist between Museum department members and faculty at Princeton University, Columbia University, and other major research universities.

The research specialties of the department members cover a wide range of modern astrophysics, including the evolution of interstellar clouds collapsing to form stars, stellar collisions and their progeny in dense star clusters, the differing populations of stars in our Milky Way galaxy and its neighbors, the fates of planets in star clusters, and the birth and evolution of the first generation of stars. Stellar Collisions, Mergers, and Their Consequences, an international meeting of leading astrophysicists, was held at the Rose Center May 31–June 2, 2000. The event was the first-ever professional or amateur meeting on this topic. The department also hosts regular colloquia for area astrophysicists, including one held December 2001 on the topic of extrasolar planets.

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