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Struve, Otto Wilhelm (or Otton Vasilievich)


(b. Dorpat, Russia [now Tartu, Estonian S.S.R.], 7 May 1819; d. Karlsruhe, Germany, 14 April 1905), astronomy, geogdesy.

The son of F. G. W. Struve and his first wife, Emily Wall, Struve entered the University of Dorpat in 1834 and three years later, while still a student, began to work as an assistant at the university observatory, where he carried out observations under the guidance of his father. In 1839 he graduated with a dissertation entitled “Reduction der am 19/7 März in Dorpat beobachten Plejadenbedeckung” and became adjunct astronomer at the new Pulkovo Observatory, of which his father was director. He himself spent fifty years at Pulkovo, becoming vice-director in 1848 and director in 1862.

Struve shared his father’s broad astronomical and geodetic interests and collaborated with him on a number of projects, especially during his early years at Pulkovo. He participated in the systematic survey of all the stars from the north pole to 15° south declination and discovered and described several hundred of the double stars that were included in the Catalogue revu et corrigé des étoiles doubles et multiples découvertes à l’observatoire central de Poulcova, published in 1853. He simultaneously began the investigation of the motion of binary and multiple stars that occupied him for almost forty years, during which time he made 6,080 micrometric observations of more than 905 systems. The results of these studies were published in the ninth volume of Observations de Poulkova in 1878; in a preface, Struve described his research on systematic errors of micrometric measurements and described the formula he had worked out for their correction by means of a model of double star systems. His work on astronomical constants led him to the determination, in the 1850’s, of a value for the constant of precession that was used throughout the world until 1895, when Simon Newcomb derived a more accurate one. This work won Struve the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In taking up his father’s work on stellar parallaxes, Struve chose to concentrate on those stars–α Lyrae, 61 Cygni, η and μ Cassiopeiae, α Aurigae, and α Aquilae, for example–of which the great motion was assumed to account for their relative closeness to the earth. He was also concerned with the structure of the universe and adhered to William Herschel’s theories of the development of stars from nebulae. The great variety of nebula forms, he believed, might represent various stages of star formation, and for this reason he paid particularly close attention to nebulae–such as those in Orion–that are relatively close to stars. Struve maintained that a direct physical link existed among stars which appear to be in the center of nebulae and those which had originated from nebular material. Some of his conclusions are obviously wrong, as for example his belief that only one stellar system could exist in the admittedly infinite universe and that this system–the Milky Way–must be a uniform kinematic entity, having no central body and extending, probably infinitely, into the unknown.

Struve took part in a number of scientific expeditions. In 1842 he went with his father to Lipetsk to observe the solar eclipse and to carry out chronometric observations, while in 1842 and 1843 he participated in the elder Struve’s expeditions to Altona and Greenwich, by which the longitudinal relationship of the Pulkovo and Greenwich observatories was established. He himself made further trips between 1846 and 1857 to determine the longitudinal relationships of Pulkovo and Moscow, Warsaw, Kazan, Dorpat, and Arkhangelsk, and observed two other solar eclipses (at Lomge in 1851 and at Popbes, Spain, in 1860). From the latter he was led to conclude that the protuberances visible on the solar surface during eclipses originate on the sun itself.

Much of Struve’s geodetic work was conducted in the 1850’s, prior to his succession to the directorship of the Pulkovo Observatory. He served as astronomical adviser to the Military Topographic Department of General Staff Headquarters in St. Petersburg from 1847 until 1862 and to the Hydrographic Department of the Marine Ministry from 1854 until 1864. In these posts he dealt with problems of practical astronomy, geodesy, and hydrography, particularly those of latitudinal and longitudinal measurement, accurate altimetric measurement of European Russia, and the improvement of instrumentation. He supported the United States’ proposal to introduce a common prime meridian, and discussed this project with American scientists in 1884 when he went to the United States to commission a large refractor for the Pulkovo Observatory from Alvan Clark. His interest in instrumentation extended to spectroscopy and photography, and under his guidance an astrophysical laboratory was established at Pulkovo.

Struve took an active part in the affairs of the Russian Geographical Society, and he served as chairman of its department of mathematical geography from 1860 to 1866; he was also a member of the commission that equipped expeditions to the North Urals and to Central Asia to study the old bed of the Amu-Darya River. He was a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and of the French Académie des Sciences; an enthusiastic advocate of international scientific cooperation, he was from 1867 to 1878 chairman of the German Astronomical Society. He was also chairman of the Paris congress on establishing the standard meter (1872) and of the International Commission on Sky Photography (1887).

In 1889, at the end of fifty years of service to the Pulkovo Observatory, Struve resigned as director and went to Karlsruhe, where other members of his family were living. Despite his advanced age, he frequently lectured at the Naturalists’ Society of the Technische Hochschule there. He was married twice, first to Emily Dirssen and then, following her death, to Emma Yankovskaya. He had seven children, of whom two sons, Hermann and Ludwig Struve, carried the family profession into a new generation.


I. Original Works. Struve’s more than 130 published works include “Bestimmung der Constanten der Praecession, mit Berücksichtigung der eigenen Bewegung des Sonnensystems,” in Mémoires de l’ Académie impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg, Ser. sci. math. et phys., 6th ser., 5 , no. 1 (1844), 17–124; Catalogue revu et corrigé des étoiles doubles découvertes à Poulkova,” ibid., 6th ser., 7 , no. 4 (1853), 385–405; “Issledovanie o kompensatsii khronometrov” (“Studies on the Compensation of Chronometers”), in Morskoisbornik, 21 , no. 4 (1856), 52–93; “Nouvelle détermination de la parallaxe annuelle des étoiles α Lyrae et 61 Cygni,” in Mémoires de l’Academic impériale des sciences de St.pétersburg, 7th ser., 1 , no. 1 (1859), 1–51: “O zvezdnykh sistemakh i tumannykh pyatnakh” (“On Stellar Systems and Nebular Spots”), in Zapiski Imperatorskoi akademii nauk, 1 , no. 2 (1862), 145–161; and Obzor deyatelnosti Nikolaevskoy Glavnoy (Pulkovskoy) observatorii v prodolzhenie pervykh 25 let ee sushchestvovania (“Survey of the Activities of the Nikolaev Main [pulkovo] Observatory Its First Twenty-Five Years”; St. Peterspurg, 1865).

Subsequent works include “Résultats de quelques observations supplémentaires faites sur des étoiles doubles artificielles,” in Bulletin de l’Académie impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg, 12 (1867), 73–95; “Ο pervom meridiane” (“On the Prime Meridian”), in Izvestiya Imperatorskogo Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva, 6 , sec. 2 (1870), 1–14; “Ob uslugakh, okazannykh Petrom Velikim matematicheskoy geografii Rossii” (“On the Service of Peter the Great to the Mathematical Geography of Russia”), in Zapiski Imperatorskoi akademii nauk, 20 , no. 1 (1872), 1–19; “Ο resheniakh, prinyatykh na Vashingtonskoy konferentsii otnositelno pervogo meridiana i vselenskogo vremeni” (“On the Resolutions Adopted at the Washington Conference Regarding the Prime Meridian and Universal Greenwich Civil Time,” ibid., 50 , supp. 3 (1885). 1–25; “Die Photographie im Dienste der Astronomie,” in Bulletin de l’Académic impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg, 30 (1886), 484–500; and “Mesures micrométriques des étoiles doubles,” in Observations de Poulkova, 10 , pt. 2 (1893), 1–226.

II Secondary Literature. On Struve and his work, see Otton Vasilievich Struve. Materialy dlya biograficheskogo slovarya deystvitelnykh chlenov Imperatorskoy Akademii nauk (“. . . Materials for the Biographical Dictionary of Full Members of the Imperial Academy of Sciences”), pt. 2 (Petrograd, 1917), 177–182, which includes a bibliography of 131 of his works: D. I. Dubyago, “Ο nauchnykh zaslugakh akademika Ottona Vasilievicha Struve” (“On the Scientific Merits of Academician Otton Vasilievich Struve”), in Sobranie protokolov Obshchestva estestvoispytately pri Kazanskom universitete, 5 (1887), 141–151.

There are obituaries by M. Nyren, in Vierteljahrsschrift der Astronomischen Gesellschaft, 40 (1905), 286–303; and by A. A. Ivanov, in Izvestiya Russkago astronomicheskago obshchestva, 11 , nos. 5–6 (1905), 222–224.

Z. K. Sokolovskaya

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