Astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar revealed that massive stars can crumble on their own gravity to enormous, if not infinite, densities.
These collapsed stars are now known as neutron stars and black holes.
Early Life and Education
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was born in Lahore, British India, on October 19, 1910. (Lahore is now part of Pakistan.) His mother was a translator who taught her children to read, and his father was the Deputy Auditor General of the Northwestern Railways. C. V. Raman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, was his father’s brother. His family and private tutors home-schooled him as a child.
Although he was only 19 at the time, this work earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics.
In 1931, Chandrasekhar traveled to Göttingen, Germany, to spend the summer working with future Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born.
In 1932, Chandrasekhar relocated to Copenhagen, Denmark, to work at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, which had been founded 12 years before by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr.
In 1933, he was brought back to Cambridge, where he obtained his Ph.D. at the age of 22. He was also given a four-year Fellowship to continue his research at Cambridge.
The Chandrasekhar Restrict and Star Fate
Chandrasekhar was fascinated by the physics of stars – astrophysics – between the ages of 18 and 28 (1929 to 1939).
He estimated a number while traveling by ship to Cambridge to begin his Ph.D. in 1930. This number is now known as The Chandrasekhar Limit in his honor. It has a value of 1.4. The destiny of stars is determined by this number.
Chandrasekhar published his findings in the Astrophysical research journal in 1931.
Our sun becomes a white dwarf in several billion years. Astrophysicists believed in 1930 that all stars will indeed soon disappear to become white dwarfs.
Chandrasekhar discovered that white dwarfs can only exist if their mass is less than or comparable to 1.4 times that of our sun. Chandrasekhar discovered the limit to be around 1.7 solar masses at first, but refined this value over time.
If a star’s residual mass is greater than 1.4 times that of our sun at the end of its life, its ultimate fate will be strange.
Noble Prize in Physics:
In the end, scientists agreed that Chandrasekhar was correct and Eddington was incorrect. It was a lengthy process that lasted about 30 years.
It is now widely acknowledged that the eventual fate of stars is determined by their masses. Smaller stars become white dwarfs after a supernova, while larger stars might get to be neutron stars or black holes.
Chandrasekhar received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 “for his conceptual studies of physical processes important to the formation and dynamics of stars.” He and William Fowler shared the prize.