card
072

Mike Shara

OLogy Series
ologist
card
072

Mike Shara

OLogy Series
ologist

On a clear night, Mike Shara sees more than just the beautiful twinkling of stars when he gazes at the sky. Mike is an astrophysicist and studies stars' life cycles at the American Museum of Natural History. He often uses the Hubble Space Telescope and other large telescopes on Earth to make his observations.

An Explosive Moment
A nova is a very bright and sudden explosion of a star, during which it gets much, much brighter. This probably occurs when hydrogen, an explosive gas, builds up on the star's surface. When a star "goes nova" it can get as much as 40 million times brighter. Usually, a star goes nova several times, re-exploding whenever enough gas builds up. The time between flare-ups ranges from a few weeks to thousands of years. Mike witnessed the latest flare-up of one of the oldest nova ever recorded. It was first observed back in 1670, but had not exploded since. Astronomers hunted it for over three hundred years. Mike looked for it, too. In 1983, he was doing research in Hawaii using one of the largest telescopes in the world. There it was -- our first viewing in 330 years. It may be thousands of years before it flares up again -- or it could be tomorrow!

One of the objects Mike studies is a globular cluster, which is a:

chewy type of space candy

dense swarm of stars

group of intertwined galaxies

Are you right?

Correct!

These roundish clumps of old stars form a cloud that orbits around our galaxy. Because of their age, these stars are like the fossilized remains of the Universe's past.

When Mike was a kid, he wanted to grow up to become:

a sculptor

a Shakespearean actor

an astrophysicist

Are you right?

Correct!

Mike knew that his passion for stars would lead him to a career in astronomy when he was as young as seven.

Mike Shara, astrophysicist

I wanted to know what happened when stars smashed into each other.

Name: Michael Shara
Born: September 12, 1949
Hometown: Montreal, Canada
Position: Chairman and Curator, Department of Astrophysics
Education: Ph.D., Tel Aviv University
Known for: studies of stellar collisions and exploding stars

Image credits: courtesy of AMNH; Mike Shara: AMNH.