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Milne and the Dawn of the Theory of Stellar Structure

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Between 1921 and 1937 Edward Arthur Milne published around 90 papers on stars. This was a period of very rapid change in our understanding of these fascinating objects that make up the visible Universe and Milne was a key player in these changes. In 1925 Cecilia Payne found the first indications that hydrogen is the major constituent of the Sun. Though Eddington was already convinced that nuclear fusion is the source of a star’s luminosity it was not until 1928 that Gamow applied quantum mechanical tunnelling to alpha particle emission and it became feasible that fusion could operate at the temperatures expected at the centres of stars. Milne’s early contributions concerned stellar atmospheres, including the formation of spectral lines and limb darkening. Later he delved into many aspects of stellar structure, including rotating stars, pulsating stars, binary stars and collapsed degenerate stars. It was Milne’s work on collapsed stars that caught the attention of Chandrasekhar and led him to determine the maximum mass for a white dwarf in 1931. I shall endeavour to portray these exciting times and how the ideas have developed into our present-day theory of stellar structure and evolution.

This talk is part of the Trinity Mathematical Society series.

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