April 15 is the 225th birthday of Vasily Struve, one of the founders of stellar astronomy, the first director of the Pulkovo Observatory, a foundation member of the Russian Geographical Society.
Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve was born in Altona, a small German town near Hamburg, in the family of the gymnasium director. He studied philology at Dorpat University and listened to lectures on physics. In 1813 two years after he graduated from the Faculty of Philology, Struve defended his master thesis in astronomy. Since 1819 the young scientist had been head of Dorpat Observatory and he managed to supply it with first-class equipment rare for that time. Here he began his works to measure a meridian arc in order to establish the Earth parameters (its exact shape and size).
The Struve Geodetic Arc
The Geodetic network of 265 triangulations was established in the years 1816 to 1855 by Vasily Struve and was named after him. It stretches over 2,820 km from Ukraine to Norway and covers 1/14 of the circumference of the Earth. The Struve geodetic arc helped to establish the exact size and shape of the Earth, and the accuracy of measurement was confirmed by Satellite-based techniques in the 20th century. Now the Struve Arc goes through ten countries, and 34 triangulations out of 265 are well preserved and are included in the UNESCO's list of protected sites. Two of them are in Russia - Mäkipällus and Z-point on the island of Hogland in the Gulf of Finland, which is a connecting point between the northern and southern links of the geodetic network. In 1862, the Imperial Russian Geographical Society awarded Vasily Struve with the highest award, the Constantine Medal.
"Astronomical capital of the globe"
Since 1833, Struve had taken an active part in the development and construction of the Pulkovo Observatory and then became its first director. Many studies on astronomy and geodesy were carried out under his leadership. Struve studied double stars and published his double star catalogue; he established the constant of the abberation of light. The Pulkovo Observatory was considered one of the most advanced for its time.
Struve and Geographical Society
Vasily Struve was one of 17 foundation members of the Russian Geographical Society. From 1850 to 1856, the scientist was the first head of the Department of Mathematical Geography. The department would deal with issues of practical astronomy, geodesy and cartography, by determining the geographic location of points by astronomical observations and geodetic measurements. It developed programs for geographic expeditions, maps and atlases.
At the beginning of 1847 the first two-year expedition of the Society to the North Urals was organized. Struve prepared the instruction on geodetic and astronomical works. At the beginning of 1852 the Society published the first map on the materials of this expedition. It was for the first time that the Norht Urals and the Pai-Khoy range were depicted in and detail.
After the expedition to the Urals, the Society organized expeditions to Siberia. The Council of the Society instructed Struve to develop a general program for the expedition regarding astronomical issues.
In 1851 Struve made a detailed instruction on astronomical, geodetic and topographical works. In the same year, Struve took part in the organization of Kamchatka expedition and prepared instructions to its members.
Struve corrected boundary and this work was of particular importance for geography. In 1849, the Society began to publish landmark atlases of provinces according to a special program developed by the scientist.
Struve published his articles in journals and magazines of the Society. December 24, 1845, Vasily Struve spoke at a meeting of the Society and in this report he gave a historical and critical review of information on the mathematical geography of Russia. His speech was then published in the Notes of the Geographical Society in 1846. Struve's work gave a strong impetus to the development of triangulation in Russia.
Among other honors, Struve was elected an Honorary Member of the Geographical Society in 1863. He was also Honorary Member of all Russian universities, some foreign academies of sciences and scientific societies. He died November 23, 1864 in St. Petersburg.