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Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the scientist who revealed how stars die

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Thanks to Chandra, we know that not all stars die the same


Similar to a living organism, a star has its own life cycle: it’s born out of clumps of gas and dust, it evolves and changes over millions or billions of years, and then it dies, leaving behind a stellar remnant of the object it once was. It’s a process that is central to the study of astrophysics, and a lot of what we know about this cycle stems from the work of today’s Google doodle honoree, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Chandrasekhar, better known as Chandra, was an Indian-born astrophysicist who developed his most famous finding before he was 20 years old. While traveling to England to study at Cambridge, Chandra came up with what is now known as the Chandrasekhar limit, a concept that details what happens to stars after they use up all of their fuel and die. If a star is less than 1.4 times the mass of our Sun, it will collapse into something called a white dwarf — the extremely hot and dense leftover stellar core. But if a star is more than 1.4 times the mass of our Sun, it won’t form a white dwarf but instead explode in a supernova or collapse into a black hole.

It wasn’t the most popular theory at first, and Chandra’s limit was infamously ridiculed by Sir Arthur Eddington, one of the leading astrophysicists at the time, during a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1935. But eventually, Chandra’s work would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983. Chandra’s name was also given to one of NASA’s space telescopes, which observes X-ray emission from hot parts of the Universe.

Chandra died in 1995, four years before that satellite launched bearing his name. If he were alive today, though, he’d be 107 years old.