Dwarf Stars and Giant Stars

What is the Chandrasekhar limit?

In 1930 Chandrasekhar used theories first presented by Arthur Eddington, as well as Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, to calculate that a star higher than a certain mass limit will not end its life as a white dwarf. In other words, the electron degeneracy that would stop the collapse of a star’s core would stop working because the pressure would be so great that the electrons would start moving too fast to provide outward pressure. In 1934 and 1935, he made further calculations showing that, above about 1.4 times the mass of the Sun, a stellar core will collapse beyond the white dwarf stage and turn into something far denser and more compact. Although this particular discovery was not immediately accepted by the astrophysical community, the discovery of the Crab Nebula pulsar and the realization that it was far smaller and denser than any white dwarf confirmed Chandrasekhar’s calculations. That upper mass limit is today called the Chandrasekhar limit in his honor.


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