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K. Brecher (Boston U.)
The origin of the concept of neutron stars can be traced to two brief, incredibly insightful publications. Work on the earlier paper by Lev Landau (Phys. Z. Sowjetunion, 1, 285, 1932) actually predated the discovery of neutrons. Nonetheless, Landau arrived at the notion of a collapsed star with the density of a nucleus (really a “nucleus star”) and demonstrated (at about the same time as, and independent of, Chandrasekhar) that there is an upper mass limit for dense stellar objects of about 1.5 solar masses. Perhaps even more remarkable is the abstract of a talk presented at the December 1933 meeting of the American Physical Society published by Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky in 1934 (Phys. Rev. 45, 138). It followed the discovery of the neutron by just over a year. Their report, which was about the same length as the present abstract: (1) invented the concept and word supernova; (2) suggested that cosmic rays are produced by supernovae; and (3) in the authors own words, proposed “with all reserve ... the view that supernovae represent the transitions from ordinary stars to neutron stars (italics), which in their final stages consist of extremely closely packed neutrons.” The abstract by Baade and Zwicky probably contains the highest density of new, important (and correct) ideas in high energy astrophysics ever published in a single paper. In this talk, we will discuss some of the facts and myths surrounding these two publications.