OTTO STRUVE: SCIENCE IN GENES

Two hundred years ago, on May 7, 1819, Otto Vasilievich Struve, a representative of the second generation of astronomers, was born. He is one of the founders of stellar astronomy, the second director of the Pulkovo Observatory. The great scientist discovered about 500 double stars and made clear to the descendants the nature of the rings of Saturn, comets and nebulae.

Otto Struve practically did not see his scientist father as a child. While his mother was raising children, Vasily Struve worked at the Derpt University Observatory. He crossed paths with children only at lunchtime and on walks at the weekend. Nevertheless, the child did not move away from the parent, but wanted to be like him. To do this, little Otto himself studied mathematics and exact sciences, and his father encouraged the aspirations of his son.

Grammar school, brilliant admission to the University of Dorpat … Even before the start of his scientific career, it became clear that Otto could easily bypass his father’s scientific knowledge. When the younger Struve began to help the elder in the observatory, there was no doubt: the post of director after leaving the professor would not remain unowned.

When the family moved to Pulkovo Observatory, Otto received a Ph.D. But the stars did not occupy him at all as a philosophical concept. Otto Vasilievich directed the main forces to work on determining the apex of the Sun – a point in the sky toward which the speed of the largest star in a certain coordinate system is directed. For research, Otto received a master’s degree in astronomy from Imperial St. Petersburg University.

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Otto devoted much time to expeditions: first, the study of the solar eclipse in Lipetsk, then the work on the discovery of the Pulkovo meridian. Located east of Greenwich, it was the zero meridian on the maps of the former Russian Empire. And all this, along with taking care of his father: because of his age, he could not fully manage the world’s largest (at that time) observatory. Otto became its executive director in 1846. Under him, the Pulkovo Observatory reached the European level: new equipment appeared, the staff expanded. In particular, in 1886, a huge 30-inch refractor was installed, an astrophysical laboratory was established for which various devices were purchased, a 15-inch refractor was redesigned, etc. In general, the Struve observatory’s work followed the traditions of his father. In 1874, numerous expeditions were equipped to observe the passage of Venus through the disk of the Sun; in 1887 – to observe the eclipse of the sun. 

Vasily Yakovlevich Struve (1793–1864) – founder of the dynasty of Russian astronomers. He laid the foundation for a whole section of astronomical science – stellar astronomy. The first degree from Vasily Struve is in philological sciences. After three years of studying astronomy, he began to work at the Derpt Observatory and the university.

In 1833, it was Struve who initiated the construction of the Pulkovo Observatory and became its first director in 1839. The activity of Vasily Yakovlevich was encouraged by Nicholas I. One of the largest political projects was the foundation of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society in 1845.

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The efforts of Struve Sr. introduced new constants in astrophysics. Now many of them are no longer used, but contemporaries and students of the academician have long made their calculations with the help of them. In addition, Vasily Yakovlevich designed the so-called Struve arc – 265 triangulation points, which served to study the shape and size of the Earth. Now this arc, passing through several countries of the former Russian Empire, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In some countries (Moldova and Lithuania) this object is completely the only or one of the few that have such a status.

Struve compiled two jubilee publications on the occasion of the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the observatory, which include a historical overview of her work and a description of new instruments. Struve’s observational activity mainly consisted of measuring binary stars with a 15-inch refractor. They gave material for the IX and X volumes of Pulkovo observations. In addition, he observed the satellites of Uranus, Neptune, measured the ring of Saturn, etc.

Of his works, the most famous are:

“Determination of the practice constant with a report on the proper movement of the Solar System” (Bestimmung der Constante der Pracession mit Berichtsichtigung der eigenen Bewegung des Sonnensystems) (1841);
“On the sizes of the rings of Saturn” (Sur les dimensions des anneaux de Saturne) (1852);
Observations de la grande nebuleuse d’Orion faites a Kasan et a Poulkova par M. Liapounow et O. Struve (1862).
Also among his legacy it is necessary to mention several memoirs related to measurements of binary stars, and a large number of small articles on all branches of observational astronomy. 

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Awards and prizes

Otto Struve was an honorary member of many academies and academic societies, and was repeatedly awarded with medals and prizes. In 1850, he was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal.
His surname is engraved on the jubilee medal “In Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Corps of Military Topographers.”
In 1913, discovered by the Russian astronomer Grigory Nikolayevich Neuimin, the small planet number 768 was named Struveana in honor of the astronomers Vasily Struve, Otto Struve and German Struve.
In 1964, the International Astronomical Union named Otto Vasilievich Struve a crater on the visible side of the moon.

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