Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Poll Analyses
Share on Facebook 12 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds   

Chandrasekhar: Brilliant Skeptic

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages) (View How Many People Read This)   1 comment
Author 514931
Message James Haught

If you think adolescents are a pain, please consider my all-time favorite teen:

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was born in 1910 in Lahore (now Pakistan), where his father was an Indian railway official. His uncle was physicist C.V. Raman, who won a Nobel Prize.

In that era, white-dwarf stars had newly been discovered. They were amazing bodies: old stars collapsed by gravity until they were no larger than planet Earth. Their matter was unbelievably heavy--10,000 times denser than steel, weighing 10 tons per thimbleful. They seemed almost inconceivable.

After attracting notice as a brilliant science student, young Chandrasekhar won an Indian government scholarship to Cambridge University. During the boat trip to England, at age 19, he pondered equations for the ultra-dense matter inside white dwarfs.

Other physicists had speculated that resistance by compressed electrons oppose the crush of gravity and stabilize a white dwarf at Earth-size. But Chandrasekhar's calculations reached a stunning conclusion: If the mass of a collapsing star is more than 1.4 times the mass of our sun, gravity will overwhelm electron resistance. The larger star will continue collapsing.

The teenager's findings were published and became known as Chandrasekhar's Limit. Other scientists scoffed at his theory. The great astronomer Arthur Eddington publicly declared that laws of nature would "prevent a star from behaving in this absurd way."

But Eddington was wrong. Like many aging scientists, he was locked into past beliefs, unable to accept new concepts. Younger geniuses eventually would surpass him. (An old wisecrack says that science advances funeral by funeral.)

In ensuing decades, astrophysicists discovered that Chandrasekhar had unlocked something incredible: As larger stars collapse, electrons are squeezed into protons to form solid masses of neutrons. The substance of a neutron star weighs an astounding 10 million tons per thimbleful. And still-larger stars collapse into unthinkable black holes that defy comprehension.

Chandrasekhar became a professor at the University of Chicago, where he pursued many venues of physics. In 1983 a half-century late he was given a Nobel Prize for his teenage breakthrough. (When reporters came to tell him the Nobel news, he said he must hurry to class. But he wasn't teaching the class he was a student in it, in his 70s.) He died in 1995 at age 84.

Although raised a Hindu, Chandrasekhar scoffed at supernatural religion. In public discussions, he said: "I am not religious in any sense. In fact, I consider myself an atheist... I can characterize myself definitely as an atheist."

He fit a well-known pattern: Most of the world's most brilliant thinkers, scientists, writers, philosophers, democracy reformers and others called "great" cannot accept magical gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles and other religious dogmas.

Today, when I see brilliant teens at the National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia's mountains each summer, I look at their keen faces and wonder how many will make breakthroughs. They share Chandrasekhar's spirit of wonder and intense inquiry. They're inspiring.

In contrast, when I see university students at Morgantown screaming their lungs out at football games and burning couches in drunken street parties, I wish something would jolt them into awareness of the true meaning of advanced study. They need to see the profound potential of learning.

Next Page  1  |  2


Must Read 1   Well Said 1  
Rate It | View Ratings

James Haught Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. He can be reached by phone at 304-348-5199 or e-mail at Email address.)James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's (more...)

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines
Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEdNews Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Megachurch Mess

Feeding 7.7 Billion

Religion-Tinged Politics

Coal Mine Wars

The Dreams that Stuff is Made Of

Sagan: Brilliant Skeptic


The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

1 people are discussing this page, with 1 comments

Richard Pietrasz

Become a Fan
Author 6357
(Member since Jun 7, 2007), 13 fans, 1 quicklinks, 3014 comments, 1 diaries (How many times has this commenter been recommended?)
Not paid member and Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in Not paid member and Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in Not paid member and Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in Not paid member and Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

  New Content

Chandrasekhar was not underappreciated for his work. Neither was Willie Fowler. It was Fred Hoyle, the third colleague of theirs who made major advancements in the understanding of the nuclear reactions in stars, who was denied the Nobel, because he was a proponent of an increasingly unlikely steady state universe hypothesis (and as best as I can tell,for much of that time he knew he was likely wrong but did the devil"s advocate thing to ensure his detractors did the work to ensure he was wrong; my opinion, anyway). At the time, the leading scientific institution of cosmology treated Hoyle as a top colleague, despite his "apostasism".

Submitted on Friday, Mar 20, 2020 at 10:24:49 AM

  Recommend  (0+)