Astronomy Bio...Otto Wilhelm von Struve

Jay Bitterman

Otto Wilhelm (Otto Vasilievich) von Struve was born in Dorpat (now Tartu), Estonia, on May 7, 1819. In 1839 he received his degree from the University of Dorpat, two years after he started working as an astronomer. While working at the Pulkovo Observatory he become its deputy Director in 1848, and its Director in 1862. From 1847 to 1862 he also held the post of a military adviser in St Petersburg. He retired from the Pulkovo Observatory in 1889 and moved to Karlsruhe where he was a member of many scientific academies. He received the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society. He actively worked with his father, Frederich von Struve, in many astronomical and geodetic investigations.

While at the Pulkovo Observatory, early in his career, one of his most ambitious observational projects was to systematically survey the northern skies in order to discover and observe double stars. Because Struve was one of it's most active participants, he has been credited with discovering about 500 double stars and made detailed measurements of binary systems. He was also interested in the Solar System and devoted time to studying Saturn's rings. He discovered a satellite of Uranus and calculated the mass of Neptune. Despite his interest in the measurement of stellar parallax, the Sun's movement through space and the structure of the Universe, he was among those astronomers who wrongly believed our Galaxy to be the extent of the whole Universe. His calculation of the constant of precession, which served as the best estimate for nearly half a century, served to seal his reputation as an astronomer of distinction

He died in Karlsruhe on April 16, 1905. The Struve name is famous in astronomy. The Otto von Struve who is the subject of this biography is also the grandfather of the more familiar astronomer Otto Struve (1897-1963) who came to the United States in 1921 and received his Ph.D. (1923) from the University of Chicago. From 1932 to 1947 he was professor of astrophysics at the University of Chicago and director of Yerkes Observatory and McDonald Observatory.