Harvard-Smithsonian logo
Title: Name NASA's Next Great Observatory

Disclaimer: This material is being kept online for historical purposes. Though accurate at the time of publication, it is no longer being updated. The page may contain broken links or outdated information, and parts may not function in current web browsers. Visit for current information.

CHANDRA: The Man Behind The Name

NASA's premier X-ray observatory was named the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), he was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century. Thumbnail of Physicist Chandra
Chandra in his
early years

Chandra immigrated in 1937 from India to the United States, where he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, a position he remained at until his death. He and his wife became American citizens in 1953.

Chandra in his middle years
Chandra in his middle years
Trained as a physicist at Presidency College, in Madras, India and at the University of Cambridge, in England, he was one of the first scientists to combine the disciplines of physics and astronomy. Early in his career he demonstrated that there is an upper limit now called the Chandrasekhar limit to the mass of a white dwarf star. A white dwarf is the last stage in the
evolution of a star such as the sun. When the nuclear energy source in the center of a star such as the sun is exhausted, it collapses to form a white dwarf. This discovery is basic to much of modern astrophysics, since it shows that stars much more massive than the sun must either explode or form black holes

Chandra was a popular teacher who guided over fifty students to their Ph.D.s. His research explored nearly all branches of theoretical astrophysics and he published ten books, each covering a different topic, including one on the relationship between art and science. For 19 years, he served as editor of the Astrophysical Journal and turned it into a world-class publication.
Chandra in his later years
Chandra in his later years
In 1983, Chandra was awarded the Nobel prize for his theoretical studies of the physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars.
According to Nobel laureate Hans Bethe, "Chandra was a first-rate astrophysicist and a beautiful and warm human being. I am happy to have known him."

Press Release

Chandra's career

1910 Oct 19 Born in Lahore to Sita Balakrishnan and Chandrasekhara Subrahmanya Ayyar.
1918 Moved to Madras
1925-1930 B.Sc. Physics student at Presidency College, Madras
1929-1939 1: Studies of White Dwarf Stars
1930-1933 Ph.D. student at Cambridge, under R.H. Fowler
1931-1932 Papers on white dwarf stars
1935 Jan 11 Battle with Eddington at the RAS
1936 Sep Married Lalitha Doraiswamy
1937 Jan Moved to Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago
1939 Publishes Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure
1938-1943 2: Studies of Stellar Dynamics
1942 Publishes Principles of Stellar Dynamics
1943-1950 3: Studies of Radiative Transfer
1950 Publishes Radiative Transfer
1952 Editor of Ap.J. (till 1971)
1952-1961 4: Studies of Hydrodynamic and Hydromagnetic Stability
1961 Publishes Hydrodynamic and Hydromagnetic Stability
1961-1968 5: Studies of Figures of Equilibrium
1968 Publishes Ellipsoidal Figures of Equilibrium
1962-1971 6: Studies of GR and Relativistic Astrophysics
1974-1983 7: Studies of the Mathematical Theory of Black Holes
1983 Publishes The Mathematical Theory of Black Holes
1983 Nobel prize for physics
1995 Aug 21 Died in Chicago

Some of Chandra's key papers on dense matter and relativity

The following list is taken from Chandra's own summary at For more information on Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, read his autobiography there.

'The highly collapsed configurations of a stellar mass', Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 91, 456-66 (1931).

'The maximum mass of ideal white dwarfs', Astrophys. J., 74, 81 - 2 (1931).

'The density of white dwarfstars', Phil. Mag., 11, 592 - 96 (1931).

'Some remarks on the state of matter in the interior of stars', Z. f. Astrophysik, 5, 321-27 (1932).

'The physical state of matter in the interior of stars', Observatory, 57, 93 - 9 (1934)

'Stellar configurations with degenerate cores', Observatory, 57, 373 - 77 (1934).

'The highly collapsed configurations of a stellar mass' (second paper), Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 95, 207 - 25 (1935).

'Stellar configurations with degenerate cores', Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 95, 226-60 (1935).

'Stellar configurations with degenerate cores' (second paper), Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 95, 676 - 93 (1935).

'The pressure in the interior of a star', Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 96, 644 - 47 (1936).

'On the maximum possible central radiation pressure in a star of a given mass', Observatory, 59, 47 - 8 (1936).

'Dynamical instability of gaseous masses approaching the Schwarzschild limit in general relativity', Phys. Rev. Lett., 12, 114 - 16 (1964); Erratum, Phys. Rev. Lett., 12, 437 - 38 (1964).

'The dynamical instability of the white-dwarf configurations approaching the limiting mass' (with Robert F. Tooper), Astrophys. J., 139, 1396 - 98 (1964).

'The dynamical instability of gaseous masses approaching the Schwarzschild limit in general relativity', Astrophys. J., 140, 417 - 33 (1964).

'Solutions of two problems in the theory of gravitational radiation', Phys. Rev. Lett., 24, 611 - 15 (1970); Erratum, Phys. Rev. Lett., 24, 762 (1970).

'The effect of gravitational radiation on the secular stability of the Maclaurin spheroid', Astrophys. J., 161, 561 - 69 (1970).

[ Co-Winners ] [ Runners-Up ] [ Honorable Mentions ]
[ Contest Home ]

  horizontal bar
Public Info & Education | CXC Home | Chandra Chronicles | Photo Album
Help Desk | Site Map | Search | Image Use | Downloads | Privacy | Accessibility
What's New | Web Awards | Multimedia Gallery | Q & A | Glossary

  Subscribe to the Chandra Digest

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Phone: 617.496.7941 Fax: 617.495.7356

Comments & Questions?