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Otto Wilhelm von Struve

Not to be confused with his grandson Otto Struve (1897–1963); see Struve family
Otto Wilhelm von Struve

Otto Wilhelm von Struve (May 7, 1819 (Pulkovo Observatory between 1862 and 1889 and was a leading member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


  • Early years 1
  • Scientific work 2
  • Administration 3
  • Visit to the United States 4
  • Personal life and late years 5
  • Awards and honors 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8

Early years

Struve was born in 1819 in Imperial University of Dorpat as a listener and completed the program by the age of 20. While studying, he was assisting his father at the Dorpat Observatory. In 1839, he graduated from the university and moved to the newly opened Pulkovo Observatory, where he was immediately appointed as assistant of the director (his father). For his initial observations, he was given the degree of Master of Astronomy by the University of St. Petersburg in 1841. In 1842, he visited Lipetsk for observations of the solar eclipse and in 1843 defended his PhD.[1][2][3][4] In 1843 Otto formally became a Russian subject.[5]

Scientific work

Pulkovo Observatory in 1839.

During 1843 and 1844, Struve participated in longitude measurements between Altona, Greenwich and Pulkovo, which were based on large displacement of chronometers over the Earth surface. This newly developed method was adopted in Russia, and from 1844, the longitude was measured starting not from the Tartu Observatory but from the Pulkovo Observatory. Much of the 1844 Struve dedicated to studying the Sun. He deduced its apex coordinates and linear velocity as 7.3 km/s. Although it was significantly smaller than the correct value of 19.5 km/s measured in 1901, Struve's result was correct in that the velocity of the Sun was smaller than that of stars.[1][2][6][7]

Struve continued his father's work in several directions. In particular, they compiled famous Pulkovo Tashkent – a southern location offering clear skies for observations. In 1874, he prepared several expeditions to monitor the transit of Venus across the solar disk in eastern Asia, Caucasus, Persia and Egypt. In 1887, he sent several groups within Russia to observe the solar eclipse. In some of those expeditions, he took part personally.[4] In 1885, a 30-inch refracting telescope was installed at Pulkovo, at the time the largest in the world (see great refractor).


1886 portrait of Struve by Ivan Kramskoi.

Around 1845, von Struve's father withdrew from most management activities at the Pulkovo Observatory and focused on individual research. From then on, most of administrative duties fell on von Struve, especially in 1858 when his father was gravely ill. With his father's retirement in 1862, Otto officially became director and kept that position for 27 years until 1889. In the mid-1860s, the son's health deteriorated as well, to the point that neither he nor his physician hoped for recovery. However, instead of retiring, von Struve spent a full winter on leave in Italy and managed to restore his health.[4][10]

Struve remained a top authority at the Russian Academy and his requests, e.g. regarding staff appointments were always granted. The first refusal, in 1887, disappointed Struve so much that he applied for resignation and was stopped from that only by the Tsar Alexander III, who requested Struve to keep his posts until the 50th anniversary of the Pulkovo Observatory in 1889.[4]

For most of those years, the working language of the Pulkovo Observatory was German, as the staff members were largely foreigners. Struve had only limited command of Russian, yet he used it whenever possible.[4]

Visit to the United States

Otto was the first scientist of the Struve family to visit United States (in 1879: New York, Chicago and San Francisco). The visit served several purposes, including ordering the Alvan Clark & Sons optics for the new 30-inch telescope in Pulkovo,[11] and it was a part of long-term Russia-US astronomy partnership during the 19th century. Within that collaboration, many American astronomers stayed at Pulkovo for observations and exchanged data with Russian scientists by mail. By the initiative of Struve, two US astronomers, Simon Newcomb and Asaph Hall were appointed as Foreign Members of the Russian Academy of Sciences.[2]

Personal life and late years

Struve (second left) with his family. Hermann Struve is third from the right.

Struve was married twice. His first wife was a daughter of German emigrants Emilie Dyrssen (1823–1868). They had four sons and two daughters who reached mature age. A few years after her death, Struve married Emma Jankowsky (1839–1902) and had another daughter with her. Two of his younger sons, Hermann Struve and Ludwig Struve, continued the traditions of the Struve family and became distinguished astronomers. Of the older sons, one served at the Ministry of Finances and another was geologist. After retirement in 1889, Otto Wilhelm Struve stayed mostly in St. Petersburg, summarizing his observations and keeping correspondence with colleagues. He occasionally visited Switzerland and Italy. During his 1895 trip to Germany, he fell ill to the point of abandoning any further travel. He stayed in Germany and died in 1905 in Karlsruhe.[4]

Awards and honors

Struve won the Otto. The Struve Geodetic Arc was included to the World Heritage List in 2005.[15]


  1. ^ a b Otto Vasilevich Struve (in Russian)
  2. ^ a b c Отто Васильевич Струве (in Russian)
  3. ^ Nyren, M. (1906). "Otto Wilhelm Struve". Popular Astronomy 14: 352.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f Nyren, M (1905). "Otto Wilhelm Struve". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 17: 99.  
  5. ^ Batten, Alan Henry (1988). Resolute and undertaking characters: the lives of Wilhelm and Otto Struve. Springer. p. 135.  
  6. ^ a b Astronomy dates and discoveries, chapter 9 (in Russian). 
  7. ^ a b "Dr. Otto Von Struve". Nature 72 (1855): 61. 1905.  
  8. ^ Artemenko, T. G.; Balyshev, M. A.; Vavilova, I. B. (2009). "The struve dynasty in the history of astronomy in Ukraine". Kinematics and Physics of Celestial Bodies 25 (3): 153.  
  9. ^ V. K. Abalkin et al. Struve dynasty (in Russian), St. Petersburg University
  10. ^ Newcomb, Simon (1880). "Sketch of Professor Otto Wilhelm Struve". The Popular Science Monthly 17 (June): 263–264. 
  11. ^ Donald E. Osterbrock (1997). Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: the birth, near death, and resurrection of a scientific research institution. University of Chicago Press. p. 77.  
  12. ^ "Astronomy and the Struve Family". Nature 154 (3902): 206. 1944.  
  13. ^ "O.W. von Struve (1819 - 1905)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 July 2015. 
  14. ^ Lutz D. Schmadel (2003). Dictionary of minor planet names. Springer. p. 73.  
  15. ^ Struve Geodetic Arc, UNESCO

Further reading

  • Nyren, M. (1906). "Otto Wilhelm Struve". Popular Astronomy 14: 352–368.  
  • Works by or about Otto Wilhelm von Struve in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
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