The Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff limit (or TOV limit) is an upper bound to the mass of stars composed of neutron-degenerate matter (i.e. neutron stars). The TOV limit is analogous to the Chandrasekhar limit for white dwarf stars. It is approximately 1.5 to 3.0 solar masses, corresponding to an original stellar mass of 15 to 20 solar masses.
The limit was first computed by J. Robert Oppenheimer and George Volkoff in 1939, using the work of Richard Chace Tolman. Oppenheimer and Volkoff assumed that the neutrons in a neutron star formed a degenerate cold Fermi gas. This leads to a limiting mass of approximately 0.7 solar masses. Modern estimates range from approximately 1.5 to 3.0 solar masses. The uncertainty in the value reflects the fact that the equations of state for extremely dense matter are not well known. The mass of PSR J0348+0432, 2.01±0.04 solar masses puts a lower bound on TOV limit.
In a neutron star less massive than the limit, the weight of the star is balanced by short-range repulsive neutron-neutron interactions mediated by the strong force and also by the quantum degeneracy pressure of neutrons, preventing collapse. If its mass is above the limit, the star will collapse to some denser form. It could form a black hole, or change composition and be supported in some other way (for example, by quark degeneracy pressure if it becomes a quark star). Because the properties of hypothetical more exotic forms of degenerate matter are even more poorly known than those of neutron-degenerate matter, most astrophysicists assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that a neutron star above the limit collapses directly into a black hole.
A black hole formed by the collapse of an individual star must have mass exceeding the Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff limit. Theory predicts that because of mass loss during stellar evolution, a black hole formed from an isolated star of solar metallicity can have mass no more than approximately 10 solar masses.:Fig. 21 Observationally, because of their large mass, relative faintness, and X-ray spectra, a number of massive objects in X-ray binaries are thought to be stellar black holes. These black hole candidates are estimated to have masses between 3 and 20 solar masses.
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