1988. Chandrasekhar, Subrahmanyan (1910-95). Collection of correspondence, including three Autograph Letters signed, with historian of physics Jagdish Mehra (1931-2008). 12 pages total. V.p., 1970-88. Fine. Complete listing available on request. Chandrasekhar was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in physics (together with William A. Fowler) for "formulating the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars . . . Chandrasekhar determined what is known as the Chandrasekhar limit-that a star having a mass more than 1.44 times that of the Sun does not form a white dwarf but instead continues to collapse, blows off its gaseous envelope in a supernova explosion, and becomes a neutron star. An even more massive star continues to collapse and becomes a black hole. These calculations contributed to the eventual understanding of supernovas, neutron stars, and black holes" ("Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar." Timeline of Nobel Winners Company, 2003. Web. Accessed 21 Dec. 2016). Chandrasekhar's correspondent on all but one of the letters was Jagdish Mehra, author of numerous important works on the history of physics including the magisterial multi-volume Historical Development of Quantum Theory (1982-2001; with Hans Rechenberg). The remaining correspondent was William C. Schieve, professor of physics at the University of Texas, Austin. Several of Chandrasekhar's letters to Mehra from the early 1970s deal with the 1972 symposium on "The Development of the Physicist's Conception of Nature in the Twentieth Century," organized by Mehra and others in honor of Paul Dirac's 70th birthday. Chandrasekhar was one of the participants in the symposium, delivering lectures titled "A chapter in the astrophysicist's view of the universe" and "Remarks on Enrico Fermi"; these were later published in The Physicist's Conception of Nature (1973), edited by Mehra. Two of Chandrasekhar's letters regarding the symposium are particularly noteworthy. In his letter of February 15, 1972 he relates a conversation he had in the late 1950s with Jan Oort (1900-1992), the pioneering radio-astronomer who first suggested the existence of dark matter: ". . . [He] insisted that I say something about my work. I showed him then certain photographs (then on my desk) of some experiments that had been carried out by Nakagawa in a laboratory (in my charge!) They revealed (in a way that I thought was spectacular) the sudden enlargement of the convection cells in a rotating system when the impressed magnetic field increased beyond a certain limit . . . I showed these pictures to Oort. Oort looked at them & then turned to me and asked "All this is fine; but when will you turn again to the real problems of astronomy." To which I replied: "I am sorry I do not yet feel that I can paint the Madonna." In his letter of May 19, 1972 Chandrasekhar reveals his poor opinion of Danish astrophysicist Bengt Strömgren (1908-87), who discovered the existence of huge interstellar shells of ionized hydrogen around stars (now known as Strömgren Spheres): "With regard to the person who might share the session [of the symposium] at which I will be speaking, I was not disappointed with [Fred] Hoyle. If you want someone else, I might suggest [Hermann] Bondi. But please not Stromgren. If there is any one astronomer with whose manner, approach, and style I more disagree with it is S.-please consider this remark as strictly confidential. (Inventory #: 44201)
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