Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar


Date of Birth
October 19, 1910
Date of Death
August 21, 1995

S. Chandrasekhar was born in Lahore, India (now Pakistan) and received his B.A. at the University of Madras. At the University of Cambridge he earned his Ph.D. under noted physicist R.H. Fowler and developed the theory of white dwarf stars, showing that quantum mechanical degeneracy pressure cannot stabilize a massive star. He worked at the University of Chicago and its Yerkes Observatory from 1937 to 1995. He investigated and wrote important books on stellar structure and evolution, dynamical properties of star clusters and galaxies, radiative transfer of energy, hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability, the stability of ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium, and the mathematical theory of black holes. He also worked in relativistic astrophysics, and his last book was Newton's Principia for the Common Reader. He edited the Astrophysical Journal for nearly twenty years. He was known for his love of mathematical beauty and precision.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Struve, O.PASP 64, 55-61 (1952).

Other awards

American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Rumford prize, 1957.
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell lectureship, 1949.
Astronomische Gesellschaft, Karl Schwarzschild Medal, 1986.
Indian National Science Academy, Vainu Bappu Memorial Award, 1985.
International Center for Relativistic Astrophysics, Marcel Grossmann Award, 1994
National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1971.
National Medal of Science, 1966.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Jansky Prize, 1978.
Nobel Foundation, Nobel prize, physics, 1983.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1953.
Royal Society, Copley Medal, 1984; Royal medal, 1962.

Biographical materials

Chandra X-ray Observatory
Chandrasekhar, S., Autobiography on receipt of Nobel Prize
Chandrasekhar, S., A Scientific Autobiography: S. Chandrasekhar: with selected correspondence, ed. by K.C. Wali (World Scientific, Singapore, 2011).
Horgan, John, “Confronting the Final Limit,” Profile, Scientific American 270, 32-33 (1994).
Parker, Eugene N.Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 72, 28-49 (1997).
Srinivasan, G., ed., From White Dwarfs to Black Holes: The Legacy of S. Chandrasekhar (University of Chicago Press, 1999). [Includes articles by SalpeterParkerOsterbrock, et al.]
University of Chicago Magazine, October 1995
Tayler, R.J., Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society of London 42, 79-94 (1996).
University of St. Andrews, The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive
Wali, Kameshwar C., Chandra (U of Chicago P, 1990).
Wali, Kameshwar C., ed., S. Chandrasekhar, the Man behind the Legend (Imperial College Press, London, 1997). [Contains reminiscences]
Wali, Kameshwar C., “Chandra: A Biographical Portrait,” Physics Today 63, 12, 38-43 (Dec. 2010). [Letters commenting on this article: Nauenberg, Michael, Physics Today 64 (7), 8 (2011); Blackman, Eric G., Physics Today 64 (7), 8-9 (2011); and rejoinder by Wali, Physics Today 64 (7), 9-10 (2011) (unabridged)]


many authors, Current Science 70, 780-822 (1996).
Abt, Helmut A., Ap.J. 454, 551 (1995). [solely on Chandra’s work as editor of the Astrophysical Journal]
DeVorkin, David, Bull. Am. Astron. Soc. 28, 1448 (1996) [brief, but with refs.]
Garstang, Roy, PASP 109, 73-77 (1997).
Heck, André, Orion 53, 323 (1995).
Lynden-Bell, DonaldQJRAS 37, 261-63 (1996).
McCrea, William H., Observatory 116, 121-24 (1996) [Comment by James W. Cronin].
Nityananda, R., Current Science 69, 554-56 (1995).
Osterbrock, Donald E.Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 142, 4, 657-65 (1998).
Parker, Eugene N.Physics Today 48, 11, 106. (1995).
Ramaseshan, S., “Chandrasekhar—Some Reminiscences,” Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India 24, 537-550 (1996).
Srinivasan, G., ”A Profile of Chandra,” Current Science 70, 95-101 (1996).
Verheest, Frank, Ciel et Terre 112, 117-119 (1996). [in French]
Tributes by many authors


AIP Center for History of Physics
Friedman, Jon R., Portrait Sketch
Nelson, Harry N., University of California, Santa Barbara
Nemiroff, Robert & Jerry Bonnell, Astronomy Picture of the Day, 1 Sepember 1995
University of California, San Diego

Named after him

Chandra X-Ray Observatory
Chandrasekhar limit
Minor Planet #1958 Chandra


Papers, etc.

Papers are at the University of Chicago (finding aid). The AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives has four oral history interviews with him and many others which mention him.

Other References: Historical

Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy, vol. 17, nos. 3&4 (December 1996) is a special issue devoted to Chandrasekhar. Articles include G. Srinivasan, “Stars: Their Structure and Evolution,” 53-76; James Binney, “The Stellar-Dynamical Oeuvre,” 81-93; George B. Rybicki, “Radiative Transfer,” 95-112; E.N. Parker, “S. Chandrasekhar and Magnetohydrodynamics,” 147-166; Norman R. Lebovitz, “The Virial Method and the Classical Ellipsoids,” 167-182; Bernard F. Schutz, “Making the Transition from Newton to Einstein: Chandrasekhar's Work on the Post-Newtonian Approximation and Radiation Reaction,” 183-197; John L. Friedman, “Stability Theory of Relativistic Stars,” 199-211; Roger Penrose, “Chandrasekhar, Black Holes, and Singularities,” 213-231; and Donald E. Osterbrock, “Chandra and His Students at Yerkes Observatory,” 233-268.

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Aesthetic Base of the General Theory of Relativity,” Mitteilungen der AG 67, 1986. [Karl Schwarzschild lecture]

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Maximum Mass of Ideal White Dwarfs,” Journal of Astrophysics & Astronomy 15, 2, 115-17 (1994).

Das Gupta, Patrick, “S. Chandrasekhar: White Dwarfs, H ion,..., Black holes,” arXiv:1107.3460v2, 2011.

Dyson, Freeman, “Chandrasekhar’s Role in 20th-century Science,” Physics Today 63, 12, 44-48 (Dec. 2010). [Letters commenting on this article: Nauenberg, Michael, Physics Today 64 (7), 8 (2011); Blackman, Eric G., Physics Today 64 (7), 8-9 (2011); and rejoinder by Wali, Physics Today 64 (7), 9-10 (2011) (unabridged)].

Greenstein, George, Frozen Star (Freundlich Books, NY, 1983).

Nauenberg, Michael, “Edward C. Stoner and the Discovery of the Maximum Mass of White Dwarfs,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 39, 297-312 (2008).

Osterbrock, Donald E.Yerkes Observatory 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution (U of Chicago Press, 1997).

Parker, E.N., “S. Chandrasekhar and Magnetohydrodynamics, ” J. Astrophys. Astr. 17, 147-66 (1996).

Peraiah, A., “Radiative Transfer – Chandrasekhar – and After,” Bull. Astro. Soc. India 24, 397-536 (1996).

Penrose, Roger, “Chandrasekhar, Black Holes, and Singularities,“ J. Astrophys. Astr. 17, 213-232 (1996).

Ramaseshan, S., “Chandrasekhar – Some Reminiscences,” Bull. Astro. Soc. India 24, 537-50 (1996).

Saika, D.J. & Virginia Trimble, eds., Fluid Flows to Black Holes: A Tribute to S Chandrasekhar on His Birth Centenary (World Scientific Pub. Co., 2012) [includes a biographical portrait by K.C. Wali, essays on Chandrasekhar’s role and impact, historical perspectives, and personal reminiscences] [Includes a biographical portratit by Wali.]

Thorne, Kip S., Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy (W.W. Norton, 1994).

Uberoi, C., “Chandrasekhar’s Contributions to Hydrodynamic and Hydromagnetic Instabilities,” Bull. Astr. Soc. India 24, 551-60 (1996).

Wald, Robert M., ed., Black Holes and Relativistic Stars (U. Chicago Press, 1998).

Wald, Robert M., John Friedman, Abhay Ashtekar, Valeria Ferrari, & Roger Penrose, “Some Memories of Chandra,” Physics Today 63, 12, 49-53 (Dec. 2010).

Wali, Kameshwar C., “Chandrasekhar’s Contributions to General Relativity,” in The Attraction of Gravitation: New Studies in the History of General Relativity, Einstein Studies, v. 5, John Earman, Michel Janssen, John D. Norton, eds. (Birkhäuser, Boston, 1993; Springer Verlag, 1994).

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Other References: Scientific

Chandrasekhar, S., Selected Papers, 7 vols. (University of Chicago Press, 1989-96). Vol. 7 contains essays on aesthetics and personal notes.

Chandrasekhar, S., “A Generalized Form of the New Statistics,” Phy. Rev. 34, 1204-11 (1929).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Compton Scattering and the New Statistics,” Proc. R. Soc. London A 125, 231-37 (1929).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Ionization-formula and the New Statistics,” Phil. Mag. 9, 292-99 (1930).

Chandrasekhar, S., “On the Probability Method in the New Statistics,” Phil. Mag. 9, 621-24 (1930).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Stellar Coefficients of Absorption and Opacity,” Proc. R. Soc. London A 133, 241-54 (1931).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Stellar Coefficients of Absorption and Opacity—Part II,” Proc. R. Soc. London A 125, 231-37 (1929).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Dissociation Formula According to the Relativistic Statistics,” MNRAS 91, 446-56 (1931).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Highly Collapsed Configurations of a Stellar Mass,” MNRAS 91, 456-66 (1931).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Maximum Mass of Ideal White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 74, 81-82 (1931).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Equilibrium of Distorted Polytropes. I. The Rotational Problem,” MNRAS 93, 390-406 (1933).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Highly Collapsed Configurations of a Stellar Mass (second paper),” MNRAS 95, 207-25 (1935).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Stellar Configurations with Degenerate Cores,” MNRAS 95, 226-60 (1935).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Stellar Configurations with Degenerate Cores (second paper),” MNRAS 95, 676-93 (1935).

Chandrasekhar, S., An Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure (University of Chicago Press, 1939; Dover, NY, 1957).

Chandrasekhar, S., Principles of Stellar Dynamics (University of Chicago Press, 1942; Dover, 1960).

Schönberg, M. & S. Chandrasekhar, “On the Evolution of the Main-Sequence Stars,” Ap.J. 96, 161-72 (1942).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Stochastic Problems in Physics and Astronomy,” Reviews of Modern Physics 15, 1-89 (1943).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Dynamical Friction. I. General Considerations: The Coefficient of Dynamical Friction,” Ap.J. 97, 255-62 (1943) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525, 339 (1999) with a modern commentary by Frank H. Shu].

Chandrasekhar, S., “Some Remarks on the Negative Hydrogen Ion and its Absorption Coefficient,” Ap.J. 100, 176-80 (1944).

Chandrasekhar, S., “On the Continuous Absorption Coefficient of the Negative Hydrogen Ion,” Ap.J. 102, 223-31 (1945).

Chandrasekhar, S., & Frances Herman Breen, “On the Continuous Absorption Coefficient of the Negative Hydrogen Ion. III.,” Ap.J. 104, 430-45 (1946).

Chandrasekhar, S., & G. Münch, “On the Integral Equation Governing the Distribution of the True and the Apparent Rotational Velocities of Stars,” Ap.J. 111, 142-56 (1950).

Chandrasekhar, S., Radiative Transfer (Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1950; Dover, NY, 1960).

Chandrasekhar, S. & G. Münch, “The Theory of the Fluctuations in Brightness of the Milky Way. V.,” Ap.J. 115, 103 (1952) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525, 455 (1999) with a modern commentary by John Scalo].

Chandrasekhar, S. & E. Fermi, “Magnetic Fields in Spiral Arms,” Ap.J. 118, 113 (1953) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525, 520 (1999) with a modern commentary by J.A. Simpson].

Chandrasekhar, S. & E. Fermi, “Problems of Gravitational Stability in the Presence of a Magnetic Field,” Ap.J. 118, 116-41 (1953).

Chandrasekhar, S. & Donna D. Elbert, The Illumination and Polarization of the Sunlit Sky on Rayleigh Scattering (American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1954).

Chandrasekhar, “Axisymmetric Magnetic Fields and Fluid Motions,” Ap.J. 124, 232-43 (1956).

Chandrasekhar, S., & P.C. Kendall, “On Force-Free Magnetic Fields,” Ap.J. 126, 457-60 (1957).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Stability of Non-Dissipative Couette Flow in Hydromagnetics,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 46, 253-57 (1960).

Chandrasekhar, S., Hydrodynamic and Hydromagnetic Stability (Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1961).

Chandrasekhar, S., & Norman R. Lebovitz, “On the Oscillations and the Stability of Rotating Gaseous Masses. III. The Distorted Polytropes,” Ap.J. 136, 1082-1104 (1962).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Dynamical Instability of Gaseous Masses Approaching the Schwarzschild Limit in General Relativity,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 12,114-16 (1964).

Chandrasekhar, “A General Variational Principle Governing the Radial and the Non-Radial Oscillations of Gaseous Masses,” Ap.J. 139, 664-74 (1964).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Dynamical Instability of Gaseous Masses Approaching the Schwarzschild Limit in General Relativity,” Ap.J. 140, 417-33 (1964).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Post-Newtonian Equations of Hydrodynamics in General Relativity,” Ap.J. 142, 1488-1512 (1965).

Chandrasekhar, S., Ellipsoidal Figures of Equilibrium (Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT, 1969).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Solutions of Two Problems in the Theory of Gravitational Radiation,” Phys. Rev. Lett. 24, 611-15 (1970).

Chandrasekhar, S., & F. Paul Esposito, “The 2½ Post-Newtonian Equations of Hydrodynamics and Radiation Reaction in General Relativity,” Ap.J. 160, 153-79 (1970).

Chandrasekhar, S. & S. Detweiler, “The Quasi-normal Modes of the Schwarzschild Black Hole,” Proc. Royal Soc. London A 344, 441-52 (1975).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Solution of Dirac’s Equation in Kerr Geometry,” Proc. Royal Soc. London A 349, 571-75 (1976).

Chandrasekhar, S. & J.B. Hartle, “On Crossing the Cauchy Horizon of a Reissner-Nordström Black-hole,” Proc. Royal Soc. London A 384, 301-15 (1982).

Chandrasekhar, S., The Mathematical Theory of Black Holes (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, 1983).

Chandrasekhar, S., On Stars, Their Evolution and Their Stability (Nobel Lecture) (Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, 1984).

Chandrasekhar, S., Classical General Relativity (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, 1993).

Chandrasekhar, S., Newton's Principia for the Common Reader (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, 1995).

Chandrasekhar, S. & V. Ferrari, “On the Nonradial Oscillations of a Star V. A Fully Relativistic Treatment of a Newtonian Star,” Proc. Royal Soc. London A 450, 463-76 (1996).

Wali, Kameshwar C., ed., A Quest for Perspectives. Selected Works of S. Chandrasekhar with Commentary (Imperial College Press, London, 2001) [abstract].

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Chandrasekhar, S., “Beauty and the Quest for Beauty in Science ,” Physics Today 32, 7, 25-30 (1979); reprinted in Physics Today 63, 12, 57-62 (Dec. 2010).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Edward Arthur Milne: His Part in the Development of Modern Astrophysics ,” QJRAS 21, 93-107 (1980) [1979 Milne Lecture].

Chandrasekhar, S., Eddington: The Most Distinguished Astrophysicist of His Time (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1983).

Chandrasekhar, S., Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987).

Chandrasekhar, S., “Science and Scientific Attitudes,” Nature 344, 285-86 (1990).

Chandrasekhar, S., “To Victor Ambartsumian on His 80th Birthday,” Astrophysics 29, 408-09 (1989); reprinted in Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy 18, 3-4 (1997).

Chandrasekhar, S., “The Series Paintings of Claude Monet and the Landscape of General Relativity,” Address delivered at the Dedication Ceremonies of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune (December 28, 1992).