Otto Struve: Science Was In The Genes

Отто Васильевич Струве. Фото с сайта
Отто Васильевич Струве. Фото с сайта

Otto Vasilievich Struve, a representative of the second generation of astronomers was born two hundred years ago, on May 7, 1819. He is one of the founders of stellar astronomy, the second director of the Pulkovo Observatory. The great scientist discovered about 500 binary stars and represented the nature of the Saturn rings, comets and nebulosities.

Otto Struve practically did not see his father-scientist in childhood. While the mother was engaged in raising children, Vasily Struve worked at the Derpt University Observatory. He met with children only at lunchtime and on walks at the weekend. And yet the child did not move away from the parent, but wanted to be like him. Otto himself studied mathematics and the exact sciences, and his father encouraged his son’s striving.


Пулковская обсерватория в 1855 году. Фото с сайта
Пулковская обсерватория в 1855 году. Фото с сайта

There were the gymnasium, a succesful admission to the University of Dorpat... It became clear that Otto could easily bypass the scientific knowledge of his father even before the start of his scientific career. When young Struve began to help his father in the observatory, there was no doubt: the post of director would not remain unattended after Vasily Struve.

When the family moved to the Pulkovo Observatory, Otto received a Candidate of philosophical sciences degree. But he did not interested in stars as a philosophical concept. The main active efforts of Otto Vasilievich were sent to work on the definition of the apex of the Sun - a point in the sky, towards which the velocity of the largest star in a certain coordinate system is directed. Otto received a master's degree in astronomy at the Imperial St. Petersburg University for the research.


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Otto devoted a lot of time to expeditions: first studying the solar eclipse in Lipetsk, then working on the discovery of the Pulkovo meridian. It was the prime meridian on the maps located east of Greenwich of the former Russian Empire. At the same time he was taking care of his father: he could not fully manage the world's largest (at that time) observatory because of his age. Otto became its executive director in 1846. The Pulkovo Observatory reached the European level with Otto Struve: new equipment appeared, the staff expanded. In particular, in 1886, an enormous 30-inch refractor was installed, an astrophysical laboratory was established, for which various instruments were purchased, a 15-inch refractor was reworked, and so on. In general terms, the work of the Observatory Struve followed the traditions of his father. Numerous expeditions were equipped to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun in 1874, to observe the eclipse of the Sun in 1887.


Портрет Отто Струве, Н. Крамской. Фото с сайта
Портрет Отто Струве, Н. Крамской. Фото с сайта

Vasily Yakovlevich Struve (1793–1864) - the founder of the dynasty of Russian astronomers. He laid the foundations of a whole section of astronomical science - stellar astronomy. The first Vasily Struve's degree was in philological sciences. He began working at the Derpt Observatory and University after three years of studying astronomy.

In 1833, Struve initiated the construction of the Pulkovo Observatory. He became its first director in 1839. The activities of Vasily Yakovlevich were encouraged by Nicholas I himself. The founding of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society was one of the largest projects in the field of politics in 1845.

New constants were introduced in astrophysics thanks to the efforts of Vasily Struve. Now many of them are no longer used, but contemporaries and students of the academician made their calculations with the help of them for a long time. In addition, Vasily Yakovlevich designed the so-called Struve arc - 265 triangulation points, which served to study the shape and size of the Earth. Now this arc, going through several countries of the former Russian Empire, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In some countries (Moldova and Lithuania) this object is the only one or one of the few with such status.



Главное здание Пулковской обсерватории. Фото с сайта
Главное здание Пулковской обсерватории. Фото с сайта

Struve compiled two jubilee publications on the occasion of the 25th and 50th anniversary of the observatory, which contain a historical review of its work and a description of the new instruments. Struve's observational activity mainly consisted in the measurement of binary stars with a 15-inch refractor. They gave material for IX and X volumes of Pulkovo observations. In addition, he observed the satellites of Uranus, Neptune, measured the ring of Saturn, etc.

Well-known works:

  • "Определение константы практики с отчётом о собственном движении Солнечной системы" (Bestimmung der Constante der Pracession mit Berichtsichtigung der eigenen Bewegung des Sonnensystems) (1841);
  • "О размерах колец Сатурна" (Sur les dimensions des anneaux de Saturne) (1852);
  • "Наблюдения большой туманности Ориона, сделанные в Касане и Пулкове г-ном Ляпуновым и О. Струве" (Observations de la grande nebuleuse d'Orion faites a Kasan et a Poulkova par M. Liapounow et O. Struve) (1862).

Also among his heritage, mention should be made of several memoirs relating to measurements of binary stars, and a large number of small articles on all branches of observational astronomy.

Awards and prizes

  • Otto Struve was an honorary member of many academies and academic societies, and was repeatedly awarded with medals and prizes. In 1850, he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

  • His surname is engraved on the anniversary medal "In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Corps of Military Topographers".
  • In 1913, the small planet number 768 was discovered by the Russian astronomer Grigory Nikolayevich Neuimin. It was named Struveana in honor of the astronomers Vasily Struve, Otto Struve and Herman Struve.

  • In 1964, the International Astronomical Union assigned the name of Otto Vasilyevich Struve to the crater on the visible side of the moon.