Skip to main content

Kovalsky, Marian Albertovich (Voytekhovich)

Kovalsky, Marian Albertovich (Voytekhovich)

(b. Dobrzhin, Russia [now Dobrzyn nadl Wisla, Poland], 15 August 1821; d. Kazan, Russia, 28 May 1884)


The son of a minor official, Kovalsky graduated from the Gymnasium in the city of Plock in 1840. From the fall of 1841 he studied mathematics at St. Petersburg University, supporting himself and his younger brother by giving private lessons. In 1845 Kovalsky graduated from the university with the degree of candidate and a gold medal for his work“O printsipakh mekhaniki” (“On the Principles of Mechanics”). In 1847 he defended his dissertation for the master’s degree, “O vozmushcheniakh v dvizhenii komet”(“On Perturbations in the Motion of Comets”). Working in 1846 at Pulkovo Observatory, Kovalsky made astronomical observations and calculations, in addition to studying the basic works on celestial mechanics of Laplace, Lagrange. Poisson. and P. A. Hansen.

In 1847 Kovalsky was invited by the Russian Geographical Society to join an expedition to the Urals to determine astronomical coordinates from Cherdyn to the Arctic Ocean. Over a two-year period Kovalsky determined the coordinates of 186 geo. graphical points and the altitudes of seventy-two points. He determined for the first time the elements of earth magnetism for five points in the Northern Urals. The result was Kovalsky’s work Severny Ural i beregovoy khrebet Pay-Khoy (“The Northern Urals and the Pay-Khoy Coastal Range,” 1853). On the recommendation of W, Struve, director of the Pulkovo Observatory, Kovalsky was invited to Kazan as assistant in the department of astronomy, and in September 1850 he began lecturing on astronomy and geodesy.

For nearly thirty-five years Kovalsky almost singlehandedly did all teaching of astronomy at the university. In 1852, having defended his doctoral dissertation, “Teoria dvizhenia Neptuna” (“Theory of the Motion of Neptune”), he became extraordinary professor and in 1854, ordinary professor. From 1855 he was also director of the Kazan Observatory, and from 1862 to 1868 and 1871 to 1882 he was dean of the faculty of physics and mathematics of the university. In 1863 Kovalsky was elected corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences and foreign member of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

In 1867 the first congress of the Astronomische Gesellschaft was held in Bonn; Kovalsky had participated in its organization since 1864. At this congress it was decided to coordinate observations on the meridian circles of all stars of the well-known Bonner Durchmusterung catalog. The zone from –75° to +80° was assigned to Kazan, and Kovalsky set up an extensive program for these observations. A catalog of 4,218 stars to magnitude 9.5 was published in 1887 by D. I. Dubyago. In 1869 St. Petersburg University elected Kovalsky an honorary member, and Kazan (1875) and Kiev (1884) universities followed suit. In 1875 Kovalsky received the title of distinguished professor.

In 1856 Kovalsky married the daughter of a Nizhny Novgorod physician, Henriette Serafimovna Gatsisskaya. Their son Aleksandr bscame an astronomer at Pulkovo.

Kovalsky’s contributions were especially important in the areas of celestial mechanics, astronomy, and stellar astronomy. His first important work (1852) on celestial mechanics was his doctoral dissertation on the theory of motion of Neptune, the existence of which had been predicted in 1846 by Le Verrier and J. C. Adams. In 1852 Kovalsky conducted a detailed study of perturbations from the large planets, and in 1853 he obtained on the meridian circle a series of observations for a more accurate definition of the orbit of Neptune. Kovalsky’s complete theory of Neptune’s motions (1855). including positional predictions for the planet (ephemerides) served as a source for Newcomb in his reexamination (1864) of the theory of planetary motion for the entire solar system. Two other works of Kovalsky also deal with celestial mechanics: “O vozmushcheniakh v dvizhenii komet” (“On Perturbations in the Motion of Comets,”1847) and “Déacute;veloppement de la fonction perturba. trice en série” (1859).

Theoretical astronomy was represented by Koval. sky’s work on the improvement of the elliptical orbit based on many observations by means of the method of differential corrections (1860), and by the memoir“Ob opredelenii elliplicheskoy orbity …” (“On the Determination of the Elliptical Orbit of the Plan. ets…,” 1873). In this work Kovalsky uses, instead of the classical method of Gauss, the theorem of Euler-Lambert. This theorem makes it possible to obtain the major axis from a simple expression, which includes a rapidly converging series permitting any desired degree of precision in determining the unknown quantity.

Of great interest is Kovalsky’s report on the well. known Bertrand’s problem (published from the manuscript copy only in 1951 in the Martynov edition of Kovalsky’s works). In “O zatmenniakh” (“On Eclipses,” 1856), Kovalsky substantially simplified and improved the computation of all the live circumstances of solar eclipses and occulation of stars by the moon, by means of a theory that was much simpler and more precise than Bessel’s. Published only in Russian, it did not receive wide recognition. Since the advent of electronic computers, however, Kovalsky’s method for computing occultations has proved to be the most satisfactory.

Kovalsky’s analytical method of determining the elements of the orbits of double stars, presented in his official opinion on V. N. Vinogradsky’s dissertation, is also widely known. Kovalsky’s fundamental work on the theory of refraction (1878). partially based on his own observations of stars at very low altitudes over the horizon, included new tables of refraction.

Kovalsky’s important theoretical work (1860) on the analysis of the proper motion of 3,136 stars of Bradley’s catalog presented the first practical method of discovering the rotation of the Galaxy from the proper motion of the stars. (Final confirmation of the rotation was not obtained until 1927 bv J. H. Oort.) Kovalsky showed the impossibility of the existence of a massive central body in the Galaxy, that is, one which would play a role analogous to that of the sun in our planetary system: J. Mädler had spoken persistently of such a central body since I846. At the same time, Kovalsky developed a method of deter. mining the elements of the motion of the sun in space among the stars; although this method is named after Airy, it could fairly be called the KovaIsky-Airy method. One of Kovalsky’s methods of analyzing stellar motions was the compilation of so-called polar diagrams, later used successfully by J. Karteyn in his treatment (1904) of his well-known theory of two star streams.

Although much of Kovalsky’s work did not receive wide recognition in his time, his influence on the development of astronomy in the nineteenth century is indisputable.


I. Original Works. Kovalsky’s selected works in astronomy were published as Izbrannye roboty po astrono. mii, D. Y. Martynov, ed. (Moscow, 1951). Separate works include Teoria dvizhenia Neptuna (“Theory of the Motion of Neptune”; Kazan, 1852). his doctoral diss.; Severny Ural I beregovoy khrebet Pay-Khoy: Geograficheskie opre. delenia mest i magnitnye nablyudenia M. Kovalskogo ekstra. ordinarnogo professora astronomii v Kazunskom universitete (“The Northern Urals and the Pay-Khoy Coastal Range. Geographical Determinations of Locations and Magnetic Observations by M. Kovalsky, Extraordinary Professor of Astronomy at Kazan University”; St. Petersburg, 1853);“O zatmeniakh “(“On Eclipses”), in Sbornik unchenykh statey, napisannykh professorami imp. Kazanskogo univer. siteta v pamyat pyatidesyatiletia ego sushchestvovania, I (Kazan, 1856), 341-478, also separately published (Kazan, 1856), 1-138.

Subsequent works are “Développemcnt de la fonction perturbatrice en série,” in Uchenye zapiski izduvaemye Imperatorskim Kazanskim unicersitetom (I860), 94-155. repr. in Recherches astronomiques de I’observatoire de Kasan, no. 1 (1859), 107-168; his short paper on this work is “Développement de la fonction perturbatricc en série (Abstract),” in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 21 (1861), 37-38; “Sur les lois du mouvement propre des étoiles de Bradley, “in Uchenye zapiski izda. vaemye Imperatorskim Kazanskim universitetom, no. 1 (1860), 47-136, repr, in Recherches astronomiques de I’ob. servatoire de kasan, no. 1 (1859), 1-90;” Sur le calcul de I’orbite elliptique ou parabolique d’prés un grand nombre d’observntions.” in Uchenye zapiski Izdavaemye Impera. torskim Kazanskim universitetom, no. 1 (1860), 166-181, repr. in Recherches astronomiques de I’observatoire de Kasan, no. I (1859), 91-106.

Kovalsky’s review of V. N. Vinogradsky’s diss., “Ob opredelenii elementov dvoynykh zvezd” (“On the Deter. mination of the Elements of Binary Stars“), in Izvestiya I uchenye zapiski Kazanskago universiteta,10 , no. 2 (1873).329-339, contains a statement of Kovalsky’s method, which was widely used—see, for example, S. P. Glazenapp,“On a Graphical Method for Determining the Orbit of a Binary Star,” in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,49 (1889), 276 280; H. P. Modestoff. “Sur la méthode de Kowalski pour le calcul des orbites des étoiles doubles, “in Annales de l’ oservatoire astronomique de Moscou, 3, no. 2 (1896). 82-87; and W. M. Smart,” On the Derivation of the Elements of a Visual Binary Orbit by Kowalsky’s Methods,” in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 90 (1930), 534-538.

See also Recherches sur la réfraction astronomique (Kazan. 1878); “Ob opredelenii ellipticheskoy orbity planet pomoshchiyu dvukh dannykh radiusov-veklorov, ugla, mezhdu nimi zaklyuchayushchegosya, i vremeni, upotreblennogo na opisanie etogo ugla” (“On the Deter. mination of the Elliptical Orbit of the Planets With the Aid of Two Given Radius Vectors, the Angle Between Them, and the Time Required to Describe This Angle”), in Izvestiya i uclienye zapiski Kazanskago universiteta,12 .no. 2 (1875), 289-312, and in French in Bulletin de l’Aca. demic impériale des.sciences de St. Petershbourg,20 (1875).559-571.

A series of eight lithographed courses in various prob. lems of astronomy and geodesy were published from 1859 to 1882.

II. Secondary Literatre. On Kovalsky and his work see the obituaries in Vierteljahrsschrift der Astronomischen Gesellschaft, 19 (1884), 172-179; and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 45 (1885), 208-211.

Other works are D. Y. Martynov,” Ob odnoy zabytoy rabote M. A. Kovalskogo “(”On One Forgotten Work of M. A. Kovalsky“), in Asironoimichesky zhurnal SSSR. 27, no. 3 (1950), 169-176; and” Marian Alberlovich Kovalsky. Biografichesky ocherk “(”Biographical Sketch“), in Izbrannye raboty po astronomii (Moscow, 1951), 7-40, with complete annotated bibliography of 34 titles on pp. 40-48; A. A. Mikhaylovsky, “Marian Albertovich Kovalsky,” in Biografichesky slovar professorov i prepo. davateley Kazonskogo Universiteta 1804-1904, pt. 1 (Kazan, 1904), 358-365; Yu. G. Perel, “Marian Alberto. vich Kovalsky,” in Vydayushchiesya russkie astronomy (Moscow, 1951), 108-122; P. Rybka, “M. Kowalsky,” in Problemy (Warsaw), 14, no. 2 (1958), 837-838, in Polish. and O. Struve, “M. A. Kovalsky and His Work on Stellar Motions,” in Sky and Telescope, 23, no. 5 (1962). 250-252.

P. G. Kulikovsky

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Kovalsky, Marian Albertovich (Voytekhovich)." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 24 Feb. 2018 <>.

"Kovalsky, Marian Albertovich (Voytekhovich)." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (February 24, 2018).

"Kovalsky, Marian Albertovich (Voytekhovich)." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.