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'Unaffected by Fortune, Good or Bad': Context and Reception of Chandrasekhar's Mass-Radius Relationship for White Dwarfs, 1935-1965

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Abstract:

The 1935 conflict on the nature of relativistic degeneracy that pitted Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar against Arthur Stanley Eddington is part of astronomical lore. In recountings of the events surrounding the dispute, the complaint is frequently aired that Chandrasekhar, who faced the pre-eminent astrophysicist of his time, did not enjoy the support of the astronomical community, which opted to side instead with Eddington. We reconsider these statements in the light of the published record and argue that the reception of Chandrasekhar's ideas was, if anything, rather favourable and that any perceived lack of support may have been due in great part to the inability to distinguish, on an observational basis, between the predictions of the competing theories. We further argue that the observational situation improved little over the subsequent thirty years, but that this did not prevent Chandrasekhar's version of relativistic degeneracy, and associated theory of electron-degenerate stars, from gaining a central position within the realm of stellar structure and evolution. We briefly compare this status to that enjoyed by general relativity before 1960.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00033790903261441

Affiliations: Departement de Physique, Universite de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Publication date: April 1, 2010

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