The sky isn't the limit, Chandrashekhar limit is!

  • An aspiring astrophysicist who shaped the boundaries of science with his work, but never limited them to a certain theory. Apparently, it was Chandrasekhar's laurels and titles that were supposed to reach as far as the mysteries of the cosmos travel.
Chandrashekhar was born to a Tamil-Brahmin family.
Chandrashekhar was born to a Tamil-Brahmin family.
Published on Aug 21, 2021 01:32 PM IST
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ByThisDay.app

Passed away on 21st August 1995

With a million stars as a blanket, the boy was only able to marvel at the amazing beauty of the celestial objects twinkling far beyond his reach. He would have stood all alone at the sea's edge where the earth meets the heavens and happily measured the limitlessness of the ocean. In spite of his ignorance of the forces of nature that encompass the very meaning of his existence here on earth, he would often gaze up at the stars and pray: "Oh God, may I be like Newton!"

We are just elated and inspired at how even dwarf stars look brighter when he would just sit down and begin to passionately present his theories that cover everything from black holes to quantum physics to every possible theory that talks science.

Born to a Tamil-Brahmin family, Chandrashekhar father's was a deputy Auditor General of Northwestern Railways in Lahore. The family later moved to Allahabad in 1916 and finally settled in Madras in 1918. Even though he was homeschooled for most of his early education, he went to school for three years and later graduated from the Presidency College of Madras (now Chennai) with a BSc. Degree in Physics.

He wrote his first paper on "The Compton Scattering and the New Statistics", which analyses the collision between radiation quanta and an electron gas, and is well-received by his peers.

For always being one of the distinguished students when it came to academics, he was awarded a scholarship from the Government of India to study in the United Kingdom. Despite his father's wish for him to join the Indian Civil Service, he pursued a career in scientific research after realizing this opportunity. Certainly, he then relocated to Britain and was admitted to Cambridge University.

During his time in England, he investigated in depth the degenerated electron gas found in dwarf stars, under the guidance of one of the internationally renowned professors at his university, R.H. Fowler.

He applied Einstein's theory to solve this astronomy problem and provided an explanation for why dwarf stars, upon running out of hydrogen, become unstable and explode inside. This work came to be known as The Chandrasekhar Limit. Further, it led to the concept of supernovas, neutron stars, and black holes, as well as the idea of massive stars going through evolutionary stages.

As a result of his growing fascination with the universe, he received both a PhD. Degree and a bronze medal from Cambridge in 1933. Being the second fellow from India to be granted the Prize Fellowship of Trinity College, he was following in the line after Srinivasa Ramanuja. This being the case, it is no wonder that he is the nephew of famous Indian physicist Sir CV Raman.

After starting his career, he joined the Chicago University faculty as an assistant professor of astrophysics. While he continued to uncover more theories from an extended world, he was always driven to explore the universe with his theories and explanations. He published books like Principles of Stellar Dynamics, Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivation in Science, and Newton's Principia for the Common Reader; these are just a few of the many works apart from his research career.

"Science is a perception of the world around us. Science is a place where what you find in nature pleases you." - Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar

Among numerous laurels, his work possessed the same lustre and brightness as that of a north pole star. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his outstanding contribution to astrophysics, as well as Padma Vibhushan in 1968.

Theoretically, Chandrashekhar's theories were critical and even caused controversies but because his work was supported by sound calculations, deeply researched, and years of development, it was always the case that all other alternative theories went down against him. He was an atheist who was distant from any cosmic theory, however, when it came to anything that included science, he was a generous, sincere, and substantial person.

Having spent his entire life studying space theories, Chandrashekhar passed away at the age of 84. Today it is this work that continues to inspire many admirers who look up to the sky and count their dreams since every contribution of his holds a significant account in scientific research.

Four years after his death, NASA launched Chandra X-ray Observatory, one of its four "Great Observatories" and named it in honour of the legend.

This story was first published in ThisDay.app.

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Monday, December 06, 2021