Birthday: May 7, 1819
Died At Age: 85
Sun Sign: Taurus
Born in: Tartu
Famous as: Astronomer
father: Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve
children: Hermann Struve, Ludwig Struve
Died on: April 16, 1905
place of death: Karlsruhe
education: University of Tartu
Otto Wilhelm von Struve was a 19th century Russian astronomer who pioneered the study of double stars and contributed greatly to our modern understanding of astrophysics. Son of the Russian astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, Otto followed in his father's footsteps. He was a genius in his time; completing school education at the age of 15 and university education at the age of 20. During his time at the Imperial University of Dorpat, Otto Wilhelm von Struve helped his father catalogue the northern skies. Otto Wilhelm alone is credited with discovering an estimated 500 double star systems along with detailed published measurements of their orbits. Throughout his prestigious career, he completed the most accurate measurement of the earth’s curve, known as the Struve Geodetic Arc, categorized the rings of Saturn and discovered the second moon of Uranus. Winner of a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Otto Wilhelm’s contribution to the field of astronomy is unparalleled. After his death, the family’s name continued to be famous in astronomy. His sons: Ludwig and Hermann, both went on to become successful astronomers and his grandson, Otto Struve, too was a famous astronomer
Childhood & Early Life
Otto Wilhelm von Struve was born on May 7, 1819, in the then Russian Empire city of Dorpat (present day Tartu, Ukraine). He was the third of the eighteen children born to Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve and his wife Emilie Wall.
At the age of 15, he completed his primary education in Dorpat. While too young to attend university, he was invited to the Imperial University of Dorpat to listen in on lectures. While attending university, he assisted his father who worked at the Dorpat Observatory.
When he graduated at the age of 20 in 1839, he was appointed Assistant Director at the newly completed Pulkovo Observatory.
In 1841, he received a Masters of Astronomy from the University of St. Petersburg.
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In 1841, he began his first independent research, testing William Herschel’s theory of the solar system moving toward the Hercules constellation.
In 1842, he began his research on double stars for which he would later become famous.
From 1843 –1844, he was part of the team that carried out longitude measurements between Altona, Greenwich and Pulkovo, which were based on large displacement of chronometers over the Earth surface.
In 1844, he dedicated himself to studying the sun, measuring its speed to be 7.3 km/s. While the speed measured was found to be incorrect in a study carried out in 1901, Otto Wilhelm was correct in his observation that the sun was much slower than most stars in the night sky.
In 1851, he published notes of his observations of Uranus’s moons, Ariel and Umbriel, along with findings on Neptune.
When his father fell ill in 1858, Struve took on management of the Pulkovo Observatory. In 1862, he became Director of the observatory and remained so until his retirement in 1889.
In 1861, he presented his theory on how stars are formed from interstellar matter to the Academy of Sciences.
In 1872, he helped organize the newly opened Tashkent Observatory.
In 1874, he traveled across Asia, Persia and Egypt to observe Venus’s orbit.
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From 1879-1884, he helped upgrade the Pulkovo Observatory. Upon its completion in 1885, the observatory held the world’s largest telescope with a 30 inch refracting lens.
Continuing his father's work, Otto Wilhelm von Struve compiled the Pulkovo Catalogue of Stellar Coordinates, a catalogue of thousands of double stars.
In 1847, he co-discovered Uranus’s second moon, Umbriel, along with William Lassell.
In 1851, while studying a solar eclipse, he concluded that waves coming off the sun were in fact plasma, not an optical illusion. Solar corona was an unpopular idea at the time but was later proven true.
In 1852, he helped complete the triangulation of the Meridian arc from Hammerfest to Nekrasovka. This accurate measurement of distance, including the curvature of the earth, was named the Struve Geodetic Arc.
In the 1850s, he measured Saturn’s rings and helped discover its darker inner rings. The naming system he invented for the rings is still used today.
Awards & Achievements
In 1850, Otto Wilhelm von Struve was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society for his 1840 publication ‘The Determination of the Constant of Precession with Respect to the Proper Motion of the Solar System’.
From 1852 to 1889, he was a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences
In 1913, Asteroid 768 was named Struvena in honor of 3 astronomers of the Struve family, namely, Friedrich Georg Wilhelm, Otto Wilhelm and Otto.
Personal Life & Legacy
His first marriage was to Emilie Dyrssen. Together, they had six children, two daughters and four sons. Emilie died in 1863.
He married his second wife, Emma Jankowsky, in the mid-1860s. Together, they had one daughter.
Two of his sons, Ludwig and Hermann, continued the family legacy and became astronomers. Of the other two, one worked for the Ministry of Finances and the other as a geologist.
After retiring in 1889, Struve lived in St. Petersburg, compiling his notes and exchanging letters with other astronomers. He was fond of travel and often visited Italy and Switzerland.
In 1895, he traveled to Germany where he became ill and decided to stay there.
Otto Wilhelm von Struve died on April 14, 1905 in Karlsruhe, Germany.
In 1865, he became ill, and local physicians said he would not recover. Struve decided to take a vacation in Italy over the winter, and when he returned, he was in perfect health.
In 1887, he was prepared to retire from the Pulkovo Observatory, but Tsar Alexander III convinced him to stay on until the Observatory’s 50th Anniversary celebration the next year.