Maksutov, Dmitry Dmitrievich

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(b. Odessa, Russia, 23 April 1896; d. Pulkovo [near Leningrad], U.S.S.R., 12 August 1964)

optics, astronomy.

Maksutov’s father, a seamen, aroused his son’s early interest in astronomy; and Maksutov made his first observations with his father’s two-inch spyglass, to which he fitted a set of eyepieces. When he was about twelve or thirteen he constructed his first reflector, 180 mm. in diameter. Acquainted with the articles of the well-known Russian optician A. A. Chikin, Maksutov made a Newtonian reflecting telescope of 210 mm. with which he began serious observations. Recognizing his enthusiasm and skill, the Russian Astronomical Society elected the fifteen-year-old optician a member. Before he graduated from the Odessa cadet corps, Maksutov was directing the astronomical observatory from 1909 to 1913 and conducting studies in cosmography with the students of the advanced classed. In 1914 he graduated from the military engineering school and, in 1915, completed courses in radiotelephony at the electrotechnical school. He served briefly in World War I in the Caucasus, and in 1916 transferred to the military aviation school in Tiflis. Having sustained a concussion in an accident he was demobilized and returned to Odessa. In 1917, he decided to go to the United States, hoping to meet the eminent optician G. W. Ritchey, who was then working at the Mount Wilson observatory. He got only as far as Harbin, China, where he lived for a while doing odd jobs. In 1919 he was sent to the radiotelegraph base at Tomsk. In 1920 he transferred together with the base personnel to the side of the Red Army. In Tomsk, Maksutov entered the Polytechnic Institute, where he simultaneously organized an optical workshop and repaired microscopes and telescopes. In 1920 Maksutov was invited to the recently formed Petrograd Optical Institute, but the following year he returned to Odessa and began serious work in the theory of astronomical optics.

In 1923 Maksutov developed a general theory of aplanatic optical systems. In 1928 he obtained the first of his eighteen patents, for the invention of a photogastrograph, an ingenious instrument for examining the stomach. In 1930 Maksutov was again at the Leningrad Optical Institute, where he organized a laboratory of astronomical optics. Until 1952, when Maksutov transferred all his activities to the Pulkovo observatory, he worked tirelessly on developing a theory of astronomical optics and on manufacturing the optical systems of a series of astronomical instruments. At Pulkovo, where from 1944 he headed the section of astronomical instrument construction, Maksutov devised new methods of construction, improved the meniscus systems that he had invented in 1941 and that are now universally known, and originated new methods of calculating optical systems.

In 1941 Maksutov received the degree of doctor of technical sciences and the State prize; in 1944 he received the title of professor; and in 1946 he was elected corresponding member of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences and received a second State prize. Maksutov was twice awarded the Order of Lenin and the order “Badge of Honor.”

Maksutov was surrounded by both Soviet and foreign students, many of whom became eminent opticians. His monographs Astronomicheskaya optika (“Astronomical Optics”) and Izgotovlenie i issledovanie astronomicheskoy optiki (“Preparation and Testing of Astronomical Optics”) are basic references for all astronomical instrument makers and have been translated into several languages.

Maksutov’s scientific career began in 1923 with his invention of aplanatic optical systems, in which the independently developed systems of H. Chrétien, K. Schwarzchild, and A. Couder proved to be specific cases of his more general solution. In 1932 he published a substantial summary monograph, “Anaberratsionnye otrazhatelnye poverkhrosti i sistemy i novye metody ikh ispytania” (“Anaberrational Reflecting Surfaces and Systems and New Methods of Testing Them”). Maksutov significantly improved the shadow method for qualitative verification of optical surfaces and extended it to quantitative applications, as described in the monograph Tenevye metody issledovania opticheskikh sistem (“Shadow Methods of Verification of Optical Systems”; 1934). He substantially improved the compensation method of testing the mirrors that he had proposed as far back as 1924 and described it in 1957 in “Novaya metodika issledovania formy zerkal krupnykh teleskopov” (“A New Method for Examining the Forms of Mirrors of Large Telescopes”).

As first-class master, Maksutov himself prepared at the Optical Institute the optics of such large instruments as the 381-mm. Schmidt telescope for the Engelhardt observatory, near Kazan, the Pulkovo solar telescope, the 820-mm. Pulkovo refractor, which the firm of Grubb-Parsons declined to make, and certain others. Being interested in replacing glass for the reflector with metal, Maksutov made a number of silvered metal mirrors, of which the largest was a 720-mm. parabolic mirror of high optical efficiency. In 1941 during the war, in dramatic circumstances of which he wrote brilliantly in his monograph Astronomicheskaya optika (“Astronomical optics”), Maksutov developed his meniscus system, now used in many photographic as well as optical instruments. Among the numerous instruments produced by Maksutov, the uniqe dual-meniscus 700-mm. astrometri-castrograph of high optical efficiency, constructed for the expedition of the Pulkovo observatory to Chile, occupies a special place. His unfinished monograph “Meniskovye sistemy” (“Meniscus Systems”) is the result of his work in this area.


I. Original Works. Maksutov’s early works include: “Anaberratsionnye otrazhatelnye poverkhnosti i sistemy i novye sposoby ikh ispytania” (“Anaberrational Reflecting Surfaces and Systems and New Methods of Testing Them”), in Trudy Gosudarstvennogo opticheskogo instituta, no. 86 (1932), 3–120; “Issledovanie neskolkikh obektivov i zerkal po metodu fokogramm” (“Research on Some Objectives and Mirrors With the Focogram Method”), in Optiko-Mekhanicheskaya Promyshlennost, no. 2 (1932), 8–10; Tenevye metody issledovania opticheskikh sistem (“Shadow Methods of Research on Optical Systems”; Leningrad-Moscow, 1934); “On the Temperature Coefficient of the Focal Distance of an Object Glass,” in Tsirkulyar Glavnoi astronomicheskoi observatorii v Pulkove, no. 20 (1936), 37–41; and “Sotovye zerkala iz splavov alyuminia” (ldquo;Honeycomb Mirrors From Alloys of Aluminum”), in Optiko-Mekhanicheskaya Promyshlennost, no. 3 (1937), 1–3.

Subsequent works are “Novye katadioptricheskie meniskovye sistemy” (“New Catadioptric Meniscus Systems”), in Doklady Akademii nauk SSSR, 37, no. 4 (1942), 147–152, and in Zhurnal Tekhnicheskoi Fiziki13 , no. 3 (1943), 87–108, translated in Journal of the Optical Society of America, 34, no. 5 (1944), 270–281; “Aplanaticheskie meniskovye teleobektivy” (“Aplanatic Meniscus Teleobjectives”), in Doklady Akademii nauk SSSR, Novaja Ser. tekhn. fiz., no. 7 (1945), 504–507; Astronomicheskaya optika (“Astronomical Optics”; Moscow, 1946); Izgotovleniei issledovanie astronomicheskoy optiki (“Preparation and Testing of Astronomical Optics” Moscow, 1948);and “Novaya metodika issledovania formy zerkal krupnykh teleskopov” (“A New Method for Examining the Forms of Mirrors of Large Telescopes”), in Izvestiya glavnoi astronomicheskoi observatorii v Pulkove, no. 160 (1957), 5–29.

II. Secondary Literature. On Maksutov and his work, see the biographies by O.A. Melnikov, in Astronomichesky kalendar na 1966 god (“Astronomical Calendar for 1966”; Moscow, 1965), 231–236; N. N. Mikhelson, in lzvestiya glavnoi astronomicheskoi observatorii v Pulkove, 24, no. 178 (1965), 2–7, with portrait and bibliography; and S. A. Shorygin, in Astronomichesky kalendar na 1944 god (Moscow, 1943), 125–129.

See also Sky and Telescope, 25, no. 4 (1963), 228, for a list of twenty-two articles on Maksutov telescope constructions published in Sky and Telescope after 1956, including Maksutov’ “New Catadioptric Meniscus Systems” (see above); and R. Riecker, Fernrohre und ihre Meister (Berlin, 1957), pp.504–507.

P.G. Kulikovsky