On February 20, 1996, as I was preparing reference material for this H_Book,
I stumbled on this page of tributes to Chandrasekhar. (Original address =
http://astro.uchicago.edu/rranch/chandra.html.) When I noticed that the page was scheduled to "shortly be shut down," I quickly copied the source material to my own disk to ensure that its contents would be available to interested readers for some time to come.
Joel E. Tohline
This page will shortly be shut down.
We thank all those who have shared their memories and thoughts
on Chandra with us.
Council of the American Astronomical Society
"It is with great sadness that the American Astronomical Society notes
the passing of its most illustrious member, Professor S. Chandrasekhar,
on August 21, 1995. Mrs. Chandrasekhar has our deepest condolences.
Professor Chandrasekhar was the greatest theoretical astrophysicist of
our time. His personal story of early adversity and ultimate triumph
is legendary, one of the truly heroic tales of modern science, a source
of inspiration and wonder for young people everywhere. Perhaps because
of this experience, he became the purest and most private of scientists,
motivated only by the hopes of gaining what he called a ``personal
perspective'' on the subjects of his attention. But because his touch
was so sure and so refined, his efforts brightly illuminated every topic
he worked on and left them on a much higher and more polished plane
than the state in which he had found them. He also served brilliantly
for many years as the Editor of the Astrophysical Journal, imbuing it
with his impeccable standards for scholarship and scientific style.
Through his many articles, essays, and monographs, he has left a
legacy of beauty, integrity, and elegance rarely matched in the history
of the human intellect. His example will live in the memories of
Today you passed your frame
And left us now behind.
White dwarfs, black holes...
You knew their limits
And helped us know our own.
Your passing this dimension
Is but a numerical extension,
Of thoughts that sought their basis
In the foundations of our celestial oasis..."
"My first summer of grad school (1991), I lived at Yerkes while working
with Kyle Cudworth. One Sunday afternoon I was alone in the observatory
when Chandra arrived with his wife and another couple to show them around.
Of course, he wanted to give them a tour of the big dome and the 40''
refractor. He approached me and asked, `Do you have the key to operate
the telescope?' Well, at that time no key was needed to operate the
telescope-- if you knew what you were doing you could just go into the
dome and turn on the power. So I replied, `You don't need a key-- you
can go right in.' Wagging his finger, he countered, `you haven't
answered my question. Do you or do you not have the key?'
"I explained that a key was not required any more. I then gave them a tour
of the dome, showing how everything worked, while Chandra told stories of
when his office was at Yerkes. I remember him saying with a chuckle that
at the time, the observers would not let him have a key to the telescope--`
they didn't trust him with it.'
"For a simple grad student like myself, Chandra was an intimidating figure;
his presence generated strong feelings of awe and respect. In the two years
that my office has been in LASR, I never got up the nerve to walk down the
hall and speak to him, and I'm sure I will live to regret that."
"... a story told to me about Chandra, by Rudolph Peierls.
"When Chandra first came to Cambridge as a student, he began to appear
regularly at the Sunday services of one of the local Church of England
establishments. After just a few of these appearances, Chandra was invited
to join some of the other regular attendees for tea after the service.
When Chandra appeared, one of the Cambridge ladies approached him and
asked how it happened that the young gentleman from the Subcontinent
had become one of the faithful. Chandra replied, `What else is there to
do on a Sunday morning in this stupid town? You don't even have a cinema!'
No more invitations."
Hans Bethe (*)
"Chandra was one of the great astrophysicists of our time. He showed that
white dwarf stars cannot grow beyond a certain mass-the same mass that
triggers the explosion of supernovae, the most brilliant display in the
sky. Chandra was also the greatest master of the English language that I
"Unfortunately, I never had an oppurtunity to see, hear or meet my hero, but
luckily have a read a lot about this great person, whom the world took a
long time to recognise and unlike in most cases before he passed away. Prof
Chandra is with all of us, all ... who have the will to research for finding
something new, something which hasnt been explored before and not be afraid of
ridicule from the society."
I only visited Yerkes for a few months in the mid 1950's as a student
connected with Aden Meinel so my own contacts with Chandra were brief. I
was from the U. of Alaska Geophysical Insitute at the time working on
auroral phenomena. ...
I enjoyed my visit very much due to the many interesting people I ran
across there: Willard Libby, the Van Biesbroek's (where I boarded after
staying in the battleship for a while), Kuiper, etc etc.
I recall bringing another graduate student to a lecture of Chandra's on
radiative transfer. We arrived late and he stopped speaking and stared at
us until we sat down, after which he continued the lecture without comment.
You did NOT come to his lectures late!
I also recall that when he finished his book on Radiative Transfer he
celebrated with a ham sandwich, martini, and cigarette (none of which
I am told he liked). My recollectin was that he was vegetarian and both
a non-drinker and non-smoker.
"Being a physicist of Indian origin with a name that exactly spells as
his, I am often confronted by scientists and ordinary citizens with the
following question: `Are you related to the famous Chandrasekhar?' It is
clear to all parties concerned which Chandrasekhar they are talking
about. It should be noted here that Chandrasekhar is a popular name in
India and for some unknown reason there are a large number of Physicists
(unlerated) with this name. A glance at the APS directory will prove it.
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, however, stands out as the most celebrated
among all for a long time to come. Incidentally, Chandrasekhar is his
first name and the `C'in the name of the Nobel prize winning uncle of
his (C.V. Raman) also stands for Chandrasekhar. Those of us who are a
butt of joke for our unusually long and hard-to-mouth name have to be
thankful to `Chandra' who has made this word popular in this planet."
One afternoon in early 1982 ...
"Deeply impressed by both the man and his achievements.
He is a model for all current and potential scientists,
young and old."
"The sad demise of Prof. Chandrasekhar has left a void in the field of
astrophysics, which is difficult to fill. I still remember seeing his
picture in the newspapers, in India, when he was awarded the Nobel prize,
and also when he was felicitated at the Indian Institute of Science,
In October of 1987 I spent most of a morning with Chandra because I was
working on a biographical memoir of his first boss at Chicago, Otto Struve.
In addition to talking about Yerkes, we also talked about his Nobel Prize
and science in general. At lunch at the faculty club he said, as far as I
recall the words, `Science becomes anonymous. No one calls it the
Rutherford Model of the atom anymore. While everyone calls it the
Chandrasekhar limit now, after a while it too will become anonymous.'
I said, `Well, perhaps you'll be interested to know that there's at least
one song with your name in it. It's a rewrite of a trio from Gilbert and
Sullivan's The Mikado, but my version has to do with stellar evolution
and cosmology. Towards the end it goes:
Red giants are distended with a hot white core
Less than Chandrasekhar's limit, which is 1.4
But a supergiant has a very different goal
Like a neutron star, or pulsar, or a big black hole...'
... Chandra seemed to like the idea that he's in a song.
Peter Vandervoort told me some various interesting Chandra stories a number
of years ago. Apparently, when he was working on rotating figures of
equilibrium he gave a colloquium and started off by saying, `Others who have
worked on this topic include Newton, Jacobi, Maclaurin... How nice to be
working in a field so uncluttered by mediocrity.' It was meant as a joke,
but only Lalitha laughed.
Another time he was giving a seminar and a grad student said, `Prof.
Chandrasekhar, I believe that on the right hand board you have a sign
error.' Chandra made no response. After a looooong awkward moment a
faculty member said, `Aren't you going to respond to his question.'
Chandra said, `It was a statement, not a question, and it is wrong.'
My favorite Chandra paper title: `On a condition for the occurrence of a
Dedekind-like bifurcation in the sequence of axi-symmetric rotating
Jacobian ellipsoids. IV'
Norman Lebovitz (*)
"He was the most intellectual of intellectuals, and the most tireless worker
in science. He preferred to study in great depth-that was his relaxation.
He had talked of quitting for some years, but he could never stop because
he would always seize on some new problem."
"I got my first glimpse of S. Chandrasekhar at a speech he gave at U.C.
Berkeley a few years ago on the growth of science in modern
India. His first words were something like - `I left India more than
60 years ago, and am therefore not qualified to speak on this
subject!' . His characteristic humility, of which this was just one
instance, also comes across in his books and interviews. More than
anything else, I believe this quality made him who he was.
"I got one of my last glimpses of S. Chandrasekhar at the U of C bookstore
earlier this year. I couldn't muster the courage to go up and talk to
him; so I followed him around to see what he would browse through. Two
things are etched in my memory: he looked through a folio of
Michelangelo's paintings, and later flipped through a copy of the book
`The Way We Die'. Having written his last book, on Newton, it seemed
as though he was ready, and at peace.
"I was hoping to `accidentally' meet him this fall, when I
was going to start at the University. His books had always reminded
me of the old British masterpieces on natural philosophy; by Kelvin,
Maxwell, Rayleigh, Lamb and Love, comprehensive, sometimes hard to
read, always worth the effort, and immensely rewarding. Sadly, I
never got to hear him talk science; he died on the day I joined the
University of Chicago."
"Prof. Chandrasekhar's book on radiative transfer inspired several
of us to apply his methods to study reflected radiations from natural
surface in the field of remote sensing. Together with an Estonian
scientist, I edited a book `Photon Vegetation Interactions' which we
dedicated to Prof. Chandrasekhar. I wanted to send a copy of this
book to Prof. Chandrasekhar, but never did, mostly because I thought
I would be wasting his time with this trivial business.
"I wish I did.
"I admired him from a distance. I would look up his papers in the
library and read his abstracts, or notes at the end of his papers.
"What else can one say about such a distinguished person? I guess
his work speaks for him, and we are all speechless."
G.T. Narayana Rao
Beyond the Black Hole
Jeremiah Ostriker (*)
"Chandra cared for the personal and intellectual well-being of his students,
trained them carefully and was willing to spend enourmous amounts of time
with them. He was a powerful role model for all who came in contact with
Eugene Parker (*)
"Chandra's unique strength was his combination of a fundamental
understanding of physical concepts and his phenomenal mathematical
ability. He combined those strengths to forge an immensely productive
career, one that extended from 1930 to just a few months ago.
"Chandra's productivity was magnified greatly by his ability to continually
move into new fields and quickly become the master of each, invariably
bringing much greater clarity to our understanding and usually pointing
out important ideas previous researchers had missed or misconstrued."
"Dear U of C astronomers and physicists--
"I was very saddened to hear that Dr. Chandrasekhar had passed away.
"I attended the University of Chicago for a year in 1982, intending
to major in astronomy. I was young at the time and unsure if I wanted
to stay with the discipline. Of course, I knew [...] Dr. Chandrasekhar
was a faculty member there, but had never had the chance to meet
[...] him. During the year, I was at a party being thrown by the
Resident Masters of my dormitory, Woodward Court, and was chatting
with a friend, lamenting how I was leaving the U of C and never got the chance
to meet him. She smiled and said, "Well, why don't you go say hi? He's sitting
over there," and pointed behind me.
"I was never one for hero worship, but really, that was *Chandrasekhar*
sitting next to me! I screwed up my courage and talked with him, and to my
surprise he was very warm and friendly. He encouraged me to stick with
astronomy, and I decided he was right. I received my PhD and am still at
work in the field. Although I didn't know him well at all, I believe in a real
way that where I am today is partially due to his influence.
"We will all miss him."
"What a MAN ! What a LIFE!! Few people could have had a more fulfilling or a
more insightful lifetime."
"Although I am doing research in computer science and automation
I have a great fascination for astronomy. I tried to read some
works of Dr. Chandrashekar some years ago, but I could not
understand much. But one thing is certain- his works were far
above the ordinary."
"I hope that the astronomical community does not forget the extraordinary
competence and dedication that Chandra brought to the editorship of the
Astrophysical Journal for many years. I still remember, as a young
post-doc, receiving a call to ask whether a certain tiny spot of ink
in a drawing for a paper I had submitted was a smudge or a feature in
the Crab Nebula. The call was from the Editor himself!"
"During 1995, Chandra told a number of people, including me, that he had written
his last paper. But in mid-August, just a week before he died, he gave me
reason to doubt this. In a fax sent to me in July, and again on the phone in
August, he said he had had a remarkable idea about how to calculate the
pulsation frequencies of stars, and he wished to discuss it with me. We had in
fact arranged for him to visit Cardiff on September 4, and he asked for travel
information so that he could plan to travel around Wales as a tourist the week
before that. I felt the excitement in his voice about this new idea, and I am
sure he was already thinking about his next paper, despite what he had been
saying earlier in the year. I now wish, of course, that I had asked for more
details about the idea, which I expected to hear about 3 weeks later. I would
like to know if he discussed this with anyone else."
Martin Schwarzschild (*)
"There is total unanimity among astronomers that Chandra, as a mathematical
astrophysicist, was the greatest of our generation. I was also enormously
fond of Chandra as a person, and he was a glorious friend."
"I had the great opportunity of listening to Prof. Chandrasekhar when he
visited the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in December, 1984. After
his one hour lecture we even asked him some questions. I must say that
Prof. Chandrasekhar impressed us by his alertness and dynamism even at that
age. He wrote on the blackboard for the entire one hour, never showed any
signs of getting tired. He answered questions with great care and energy.
There were people who asked him questions unrelated to his area. He
very politely told them to first think clearly what to ask!!
"His demise is a great loss to the Astrophysics community. It is difficult
to find people who are highly active and alert even when they cross their
John Simpson (*)
"I will never forget one encounter with Chandra. I saw him walking down
the hall four or five years ago looking sad. I asked what was wrong. He
said, `I just turned in my annual report to the director, and I wrote only
five or six papers this year.' `Well, it's true you've slowed down a bit,'
I said. `But don't you remember, you also wrote a book about black holes
this year.' `Oh!' he brightened considerably. `I had forgotten all about
"Whether he knew it or not, Chandra has been a role model to a number
of aspiring scientists from India, like me. Born during the dark ages
of the British Raj in India, Chandra's success against all odds
ignited the imagination of the Indian people; a people whose difficult
lives often left no room for scientific aspirations. It is with great
sadness that I mourn a hero, whom I have never met."
"I ... heard this story from Prof. Sreenivasan (Yale) ...
It is how Chandra met with Einstein, at the first time.
"Einstein was looking for Chandra during some symposium. At last he saw
him, and approached. He goes:
"`Hello, Professor Chandrasekhar. I don't know if you know me. I am
"Actually, I am not sure that this is not a joke. But, may be, after that
Chandra started to think that I. Newton is the first guy, not Einstein?"
Tribute to a legend...
I am greatly touched and distressed at the sad demise of Dr. Chandra.
Please convey my hearfelt condolences to his dear wife.
"I deeply condole the sad demise of Dr.Chandrasekhar. Even though I
have not met him personally, I can imagine how great he was from his
work in the field of Astrophysics. He will certainly be remembered
for his contribution in this field for the years to come."
"I note with sadness of the passing of the great scientist and express my
sorrow to his family menbers and colleagues. His theories about the Black
Hole's existence had been one of my favourite story of the discoveries of
[*] From UofC Press release, Aug 21, 1995
These quotes are arranged in alphabetical order of last names of the
Quotes not enclosed within `"' are either siginificantly edited or are
pointers to separately placed text.
File last modified: Dec 9, 1995.