Google Doodle: Remembering first astrophysicist to win Nobel Prize in Physics

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar is well known for his remarkable white dwarf theory in Physics.


Google Doodle on Thursday celebrated the 107th birth anniversary of one of the greatest minds ever - Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. He was the first astrophysicist in the world to have won a Nobel Prize for his theory on the evolution of stars.

Similar to living organisms, a star too has its own life cycle, he said. It is born in space out of clumps of gas and dust. It evolves and changes over the course of millions or billions of years and then finally, it dies. Following its death, the star leaves behind a stellar residue of the object that it once used to be. This process is the central point of astrophysics and whatever we know today about it, a huge chunk of that comes from the works and findings of S. Chandrasekhar.

Chandrasekhar wrote his first scientific paper at the age of 20, titled "Thermodynamics of Compton Scattering with reference to the Interior of Stars." Deeply inspired by the works of Fowler based on Fermi-Dirac statistics on the stability of white dwarfs, Chandra, as he was popularly known, shifted his attention to investigate the final stage of stellar evolution.

While traveling to England to study at the prestigious Cambridge University, he came up with one of the most important findings of astrophysics – the Chandrasekhar limit, a concept that helps to calculate what happens to stars after they use up all of their nuclear fuel and die. If a star is less than 1.4 times the mass of the Sun, it collapses into something called a white dwarf after death, which is an extremely hot and dense leftover stellar core. However, if a star is more than 1.4 times the mass of Sun, instead of forming a white dwarf, it explodes in a supernova or collapses into a black hole. Until now, all known white dwarfs in the universe have been found by the scientists to conform to this limit.

However, it wasn't a very popular theory at the time of its inception. Chandra's limit was thoroughly ridiculed by Sir Arthur Eddington, a leading astrophysicist of that time, at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1935. Later on, the same theory went on to achieve remarkable feats. In the year 1983, Chandrasekhar won the esteemed Nobel Prize in Physics for his extraordinary work in the field. NASA had also given his name to one of its space telescopes, which was launched in 1999 to observe X-ray emissions from hot parts of the Universe. Unfortunately, Chandra couldn't see the launch of it, as he breathed his last in 1995, just four years prior to the launch of Chandra X-ray Observatory.

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The Indian astrophysicist also studied in Presidency College, Madras, before going to Cambridge. He moved to the U.S. in 1936.

Fun fact: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was the nephew of another brilliant Indian physicist C. V. Raman, who also won the Nobel Prize in Physics in the year 1930.

This article was first published on October 19, 2017