In 1931, Chandrasekhar was able to show that there is a certain critical mass (Chandrasekhar's limit) beyond which a white dwarf cannot exist, since the electronic fluid at that point cannot support its weight no matter how compressed it is.

The core of such a star will simply collapse inward.

The critical mass, Chandrasekhar showed, is 1.4 times that of the Sun.

When I first heard this, I was totally confused. Sun is a star too. The Sun will eventually enter the Red Giant Phase, and then it will eventually become a white-dwarf.

How and why did Chandrasekar express his limit relative to Sun?

  • $\begingroup$ @JamesK - thank you. corrected my description. $\endgroup$ Sep 18 '17 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the red giant phase of the sun will not increase its mass, only its radius. $\endgroup$ Sep 18 '17 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Point of fact: In 1931 Chandrasekhar did not know what white dwarfs were made of and said the limiting mass was 0.91 solar masses. ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1931ApJ....74...81C/abstract $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Oct 18 at 9:20

The mass of the sun is just a unit of convenience in a astronomy. The sun's mass and luminosity, in particular, are relatively easy for us to measure precisely, and when we're talking about stars, provide a convenient scale where the numbers won't be too "astronomical" (be too high a power of $10$ to picture easily). You could derive the Chandrasekhar limit in grams, kilograms, or slugs from the relevant physics, if you wanted. The relevant equation (from the Wikipedia article) is: $$M_{\mathrm{limit}} = \frac{\omega_3^0 \sqrt{3\pi}}{2} \left(\frac{\hbar c}{G}\right)^{3/2} \frac{1}{(\mu_e m_\mathrm{H})^2},$$ where $\mu_e$ is the average molecular weight per electron (stellar composition dependent), $m_\mathrm{H}$ is the mass of hydrogen, and $\omega_3^0$ is a numerical constant that is approximately $2.018236\ldots$.

It should be noted that the Chandrasekhar limit is a limit on the mass of the final white dwarf, not of the object that will produce the white dwarf.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 The first sentence, "The mass of the sun is just a unit of convenience in a astronomy." summarises it very nicely. Our Solar System is often used as a reference - Sun, Earth, Jupiter, distance from Sun to Earth (1 au) etc. $\endgroup$
    – Mick
    Sep 19 '17 at 6:29
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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory request for someone to workout the Chandrasekhar limit in slugs. $\endgroup$
    – SGR
    Sep 19 '17 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ @SGR It's just a unit conversion; wolframalpha.com/input/?i=Chandrasekhar+limit+in+slugs $\endgroup$
    – Taemyr
    Sep 19 '17 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Taemyr The internet is a wonderful thing. For anyone interested: 1.9×10^29 slugs $\endgroup$
    – SGR
    Sep 19 '17 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it's using this Imperial Slug rather than this invertebrate slug $\endgroup$
    – Useless
    Sep 19 '17 at 11:49

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