Biela, Wilhelm von

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Biela, Wilhelm von

(b. Rossla, Stolberg am Harz, Germany, 19 March 1782; d. Venice, Italy, 18 February 1856)


Descended from a Bohemian noble family, Biela was educated at the school for pages of the Elector of Saxony. In 1802 he became a cadet in an Austrian infantry regiment and fought in the Napoleonic Wars. He became a lieutenant in 1809 and later was promoted to captain. During the battle of Leipzig (1813) he was wounded, and while recuperating in Prague, attended the astronomical lectures of Alois David. Subsequently he became a very successful amateur astronomer. In 1825 the army transferred him to Naples, and in 1832 he became local governor of Rovigo, Italy. Biela suffered a stroke in 1844 and retired two years later with the rank of major. His health led him to move to Venice, and since he could no longer devote himself to astronomy, he turned to art and became a well-known connoisseur.

Biela made many valuable astronomical observations, mainly of comets and meteors; the most remarkable was that of a comet in 1826. On 27 February of that year, in Josefstadt, Bohemia, he saw a comet and recognized it as one already seen in 1772 and 1805. On 14 March he found its period to be six years and nine months, a discovery that made him famous throughout Europe. Other astronomers confirmed that his comet was indeed identical with those of 1772 and 1805—a determination difficult to establish because of the disturbances caused by Jupiter. The most remarkable phenomenon appeared when the comet returned in 1846: it separated into two parts of the same shape but of changing intensity. It was last seen in 1852. E. Weiss of Vienna has pointed out that fragments of Biela’s comet constitute the periodic shower of certain meteors, the Andromedides.

Biela was respected by all astronomers of his time, and he corresponded with many of them. A crater on the moon was named for him, and the Andromedides are now called Bielides or Belides. His only published work shows the influence of the romantic philosophy of nature prevalent at the time.


Biela’s only published work is Die zweite grosse Weltenkraft nebst Ideen über einige Geheimnisse der physischen Astronomie oder Andeutungen zu einer Theorie der Tangentialkraft (Prague, 1836).

Works on Biela or his contributions contributions are Alois David, Geschichte des kometen, von Biela entdeckte (Prague, 1827); Josef von Hepperger, “Bahnbestimmung des Bielaschen Kometen,” in Sitzungsberichte der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Classe der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, 107 , pt. 211 (1898), 377–489 and 109 , pt. 211(l900), 299–382, 623–655; J. Hirtenfeld and H. Meynert, eds., Österreiches Militär-Konversations-Lexikon, I (Vienna, 1851), p, 410; and Constant von Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, I (Vienna, 1856), 388–390.

Josef MayerhÖfer

Thomas Widorn

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Biela, Wilhelm von

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