W.Struve- his life and scientific activity.

Chapter I

Very little is known about the childhood and youth of the founder of the Pulkovo Observatory. Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve was born on April 15(4), 1793, at Altona where his father Jakob Struve was a high-school principal. The school was called the Christianeum. His ancestors had been yeoman farmers but his gift for studies enabled him to become a distinguished philologist and mathematician. J. Struve paid great attention to education of his sons. His eldest son Karl was very gifted and energetic, and success came easily to him as he became a teacher of classics at the Dorpat gymnasium and then the principal of the gymnasium at Konigsberg. Wilhelm Struve got his secondary education at the Christianeum, which he graduated from at the age of 15. In 1808 he continued his education at Dorpat University, where he studied philology. At that period W. Struve was described as a robust and learned young man well prepared for life. W. Struve supported himself by giving private tuition in the household of the Livlandish Count de Berg. The Bergs were a very nice and kind-hearted family, and greatly appreciated the teaching work of the young scholar. Social intercourse with that family helped W. Struve to acquire good manners and to become a man of the world, which became very useful in his later life. In 1810 W. Struve wrote «De studiis criticis et grammaticis opud Alexandrinos». He was awarded the Gold Medal of Dorpat University for that work. W. Struve graduated from the university and obtained a degree in philology with the highest honours in 1811. When at the University, W. Struve turned his attention to mathematical sciences (for which he had a gift since childhood) and dedicated all his free time to physics and astronomy. W. Struve's real vocation showed up very early and Dorpat University played the main role in it. As A. N. Sawitsch mentioned the Dorpat Observatory was then furnished with far from the best instruments. Only a man of real talent could find an urgent problem in science and solve it using very moderate facilities available. W. Struve was only 20 at that time and he brilliantly overcame all the difficulties. He commenced his independent observations at the Dorpat Observatory in January 1814.

Chapter II

Dorpat was a small town in the first quarter of XIX century and the so-called Domberg situated now in the center was on the outskirts of the town on those days. There was a beautiful garden called the Domgarten on the Domberg and adjoining hills whose director for many years was W. Struve. On the opposite hill connected with the Domberg by a bridge where there had been the Bishop's castle a white-stone observatory with a wooden tower was situated. At the foot of the Domberg the building of a new university stood. The Dorpat Observatory received by W. Struve in the shabby condition became a first-class institution after 20 years of his activity. It served as a model for the Pulkovo Observatory that was being founded. The Dorpat Observatory was equipped with two astronomical instruments in 1814: a Dollond transit instrument and a Trotztop 5ft achromatic tube. W. Struve installed the instrument himself and started investigations of brightest double stars. Using both instruments he discovered the orbital motion of the two components of a few binaries and calculated the periods of complete orbital turns for two of them. The results of those investigations were reported in the «Annals» of the Dorpat Observatory' that he began to publish in 1814. At that time W. Struve was thinking on observations of stars close to the Northern pole and devised sweeping plans for the future. In 1816 W. Struve was asked by the Livland Public Utility and Economic Society to make a survey on which a new map of Livland could be based. Although W. Struve had neither knowledgeable assistants nor perfect instrumentation he succeeded in fulfilling that first geodetic survey wonderfully well. That work evoked his interest in applied astronomy and led him to an idea of measuring the arc 3.5° of the meridian for solution of the problem of the figure and size of the Earth. W. Struve presented a detailed plan for that scientific undertaking to the Government and obtained financial support for its execution in 1819. In this connection he went abroad to acquire new instruments and to get acquainted with new for him methods of observations in the summer of 1820. During that voyage he visited all the best observatories of his Motherland and met Bessel in Konigsberg. In Konigsberg he also got to know the young astronomer Argelander who became very well known later. Their friendship and collaboration lasted nearly 50 years. W. Struve returned to Dorpat in the winter of 1820 and started his preparations for measuring the arc of the meridian and continued his observations at the Observatory. The observatory received a new Reichenbach meridian circle and W. Struve commenced his observations with the aim of determining star positions in the sky (declination determination) and investigated the instrument in every detail. W. Struve called himself Bessel's pupil and was very. creative in developing his teacher's methods of observation and investigation. Simultaneously he measured arcs of the meridian, finished the work in 1827 and published the results in 1831. In 1822 W. Struve was elected Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and in 1826 he became its honorary Academician. By that time the Dorpat Observatory had been equipped with the Fraunhofer 9-inch refractor, known as «the Great Refractor*. This instrument made possible W. Struve's greatest work — systematic discovery and observation of visual double stars. Simultaneously he delivered lectures at the university and taught astronomy to naval officers and staff officers. In 1827 the Russian Academy of Sciences was engaged in devising plans for building a new astronomical observatory in Russia. W. Struve was sent abroad in 1830 to get acquainted with the best observatories of that time. He reported on the results of his voyage and gave remarks concerning the St. Petersburg Observatory during his audience with Tsar Nicholas I. The Tsar was favourably impressed. The 37 year old energetic astronomer urged the Emperor that a new observatory should be built. A commission was appointed (Schubert, Parrot, Struve and Fuss: under Admiral Greig in charge of devising a statute of the future observatory. W. Struve took part in the work of the commission and in some other work but still continued his investigations at the Dorpat University. He carried on with his observations of double stars, planets and their satellites and comets with the Fraunhofer refractor. For 12 years of observations W. Struve investigated relative positions of more than 2710 double stars. He otten went abroad and to St. Petersburg. In 1832 W. Struve was elected Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. W. Struve considered Dorpat as his home town where he lived and worked for 31 years. Thanks to his fruitful activities a new era in the field of observational astronomy was introduced in Russia, and the Dorpat Observatory became model for the Pulkovo Observatory.

Chapter III

Following W. Struve's energetic and fruitful research activities one can have an impression that he was a dedicated scientist without any private life. But it wasn't so. W. Struve got married to Emilia Wall at the age of 22 in 1815. She came from a respectable family of merchants in Altona. He led a very quiet family life and although he then had more things to care for it didn't influence noticeably his research work activities. The family lived in Dorpat in a small one-story cottage on the observatory grounds. They had 8 their own children and 4 nephews. After his first wife's death in 1834 W. Struve married again one year later. He was greatly concerned about the fate and education of his children. His second wife was Joanna Bartels, the daughter of a well-known Professor of Mathematics who had been the teacher of Gauss in his young years. Joanna eagerly lent her helping hand to W. Struve and shared all his earthly troubles. He had 4 children by her. W. Struve's scientific interests influenced the life and fate of his children. His eldest son Otto soon became his active assistant and his worthy successor later. As Sawitsch remarked about W. Struve's family life, it did as much credit to his kind heart as his scientific discoveries to his high intellect.

Chapter IV

W. Struve presented in detail his general views on the history and importance of an astronomical observatory and on practical astronomy and geodesy in Russia beginning with Peter I in his work «Description de 1'observatoire de Pulkovo*. Nothing a tremendous success in astronomical observations at the Greenwich Observatory in XVIII century W. Struve considered reasons for that in his work. He closely studied the history of that institution and found out it peculiarities. The fact was that from the very beginning all the astronomers of that observatory worked according to one plan and had the same goals. On the King's order the astronomers were to correct tables of the motions of celestial bodies and of positions of fixed stars on the basis of their observations in order to be able to determine the longitude at sea which is so necessary for navigation. The Greenwich Observatory served for W. Struve as a model in many respects when he was organizing the Dorpat and Pulkovo Observatories. W. Struve noted in the above mentioned work that his predecessors astronomers Grishov, Rumovsky, Schubert who had been in charge of the St. Petersburg Observatory had developed an idea of founding a central observatory meeting all requirements of modern science. But only W, Struve succeeded in realizing that idea because he could attract the attention of Emperor Nicholas I thanks to his successful scientific activity.

Chapter V

W. Struve played the main part in founding the Pulkovo Observatory although officially he was only considered one of the members of the commission charged with this task. The Emperor himself participated in the foundation of the Observatory. Nicholas I who knew very well the environs of St. Petersburg chose a site for the observatory. It was the Pulkovo hill 8 verstas (8.5 km) from Tsarskoye Selo and 19 verstas (20.3 km) from the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. A plot of land (20 desiatin 0.22 km ) was presented by the Emperor to the Academy of Sciences. The main building of the Pulkovo Observatory was built to the design of architect A. Briullov, who fully realized all the ideas of W. Struve. The ceremony of the foundation of the observatory took place on June 21, 1835. Meanwhile the first instruments of the observatory were being manufactured to orders and with participation of W. Struve at Munich, Hamburg, Berlin, London and St. Petersburg. W. Struve's ideas and proposals were introduced into the designs of the instruments. One of his pupils, Pohrt from Dorpat, was his assistant, who was in charge of the delivery of the instruments to Pulkovo. Foundation of the Pulkovo Observatory was an important event in the academic world and aroused universal interest. As the instruments were delivered they were assembled and installed in their final positions. The following scientists assisted W. Struve as far as astronomy was concerned: Fuss, Otto Struve and Sabler. W. Struve gave a loving and detailed description of the history of the foundation of the Pulkovo Observatory in «Description de 1'observatoire central de Pulkovo*. The inauguration of the Pulkovo Observatory took place on August 7, 1839. Representatives from Moscow and other cities and towns of Russia, all the members of the Academy, officials, foreign ambassadors and distinguished scholars were present at the ceremony. After Divine Office was celebrated and inaugurating speech of the Director of the Observatory W. Struve was delivered the participants were given medals, struck for the occasion and the guests then dispersed through the various rooms of the observatory. The Emperor visited the observatory on September 26 and attended W. Struve's 2-hour long report on the organization of the observatory, design and quality of the instruments and on the scientific significance of the institution. W. Strove was decorated with St. Stanislaw's Order of the third degree and monetary bonuses for his labours and service.

From the very beginning W. Struve chose the astronomical field that corresponded best of all to the climate of Pulkovo, its geographical position and instrumentation available. That was stellar astronomy. Pulkovo astronomers were culturally German and belonged to the German school in astronomy, whose founders had been Herschel, Gauss and Bessel. Hansen advised the Pulkovo Observatory in theoretical astronomy and Argelander in practical astronomy. The Director of the Greenwich Observatory Sir George Airy was of very high opinion of the Pulkovo Observatory, as well as the American astronomer Newcomb who had visited Pulkovo.

Chapter VI

On June 19, 1838 the Statute of the observatory was adopted. It stated the goals of the Observatory as follows:

  • to make continuous and most accurate observations serving to success of astronomy;
  • to rriake observations reguired for geographical undertakings in the Empire ! and fox explorers' journeys;
  • the observatory should improve methods of practical astronomy and develop astronomy in awareness of its use for geography and navigation.
In this connection the astronomers of the observatory were engaged in pure scientific studies and in geographical — geodetical surveys that were so urgently needed by Russia. W. Struve went to the Tambov Gubern'a (Region) for the observation of the total solar eclipse in 1842 and simultaneously he determined the geographical position of a few most important sites. The longitude of Pulkovo was also determined relative to Greenwich. The officers of the topographical corps took part in the work. Determinations of geographical positions made with the Pulkovo methods became a good basis for precise cartography in Russia. The Pulkovo Observatory had also close contacts with the hydrographic department, the General Staff headquarters and the Geographical Society of Russia when organizing expeditions to the Urals, East Siberia and Chinese border. Thus for the first 20 years of its existence the Pulkovo Observatory was the center of all astronomical-geodetical surveys done in Russia. At the same time W. Struve and his scholars continued their meas¬ urement of the arc of the meridian, extending their activity to the Danube river in the south and Sweden in the North. This over 40-year long work is known as Russo-Scandinavian measurements of the arc. In this connection W. Struve carried out also an extensive comparative investigation on different measurement units used in geodesy in various countries. The Pulkovo, Observatory was engaged in training young scholars and geodesists from Russia and abroad. The officers of the geodetic department of the Imperial Navy Academy .and of the General Staff finished their education with a two-year practical course at Pulkovo. In this work W. Struve was assisted by Dollen and Sawitsch. Being aware of the importance of a library for the Pulkovo Observatory W. Struve paid much attention to its assembling. The Pulkovo Observatory library soon ranked among the best European libraries. The library possessed 9200 volumes and 9600 dissertation theses in 1865. It was the director's pride and it included rare manuscripts, Kepler's manuscripts, fox example. The entire activity of the Pulkovo Observatory then was rendered in special reports and communications published in the publications of the St. Petersburg Academy.

Chapter VII

As the years passed W. Struve was paying less attention to administration and concentrated on his own scientific research studies. At that time his son Otto Struve was the Second Astronomer of the Observatory and showed such a gift for administration that the Director allowed him to bear a large measure of responsibility for the Observatory. In 1857 W. Struve's health got worse and the relative urged him to take a vacation and go abroad. However, W. Struve used that last trip of his for negotiations with foreign scientists on the measurement of the Astrachan — Atlantic Ocean longitude through Europe. He evoked much interest to that issue in England and Continent. The solution of that problem would enable a determination of the Earth's figure and size by geodetic methods. In the beginning of 1858 W. Struve's health failed. He could not do his research on the large-scale. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1859 and only spent summer months at Pulkovo. In 1861 he resigned and his eledest son Otto became Director. In spite of his ill health and poor memory W. Struve continued to work and to prepare his new investigation on double stars for publication, but that work was never to be finished by him. In 1863 W. Struve celebrated the 50th anniversary of his doctorate and he lived to be present at the 25-year jubilee of the Pulkovo. Observatory that was widely celebrated by the Russian astronomers.

He died peacefully on November 11, 1864 at 4 o'clock in the morning.

Chapter VIII

W. Herschel, the founder of stellar astronomy as an exact science once wrote that his final target had always been knowledge of the structure of the sky. His words could also be referred to W. Struve who was Herschel's successor. W. Struve's investigations were revelant to those of Herschel and were mainly concerned with the Milky Way, double stars, solar motion and other issues of stellar astronomy. In «Etudes d'Astronomie Stellaire» W. Struve analysed the results of long term investigations of these problems. Determination of the atmospheric refraction of the Earth, derivation ot precise positions of bright stars in the sky and numerous observations of planets, their satellites and comets, were the most interesting and important achievements of W. Struve. He determined Jupiter's ellipticity, the size of Saturn and its rings and calculated their positions with respect to the ecliptic using the great refractor. Observations of comets, made by W. Struve were very accurate, which was noted by many researchers. He also carried out fundamental studies on determination of annual parallaxes of stars. W. Struve discovered undoubtful rotation for 58 pairs of double stars while studying motions and magnitude of physical double systems. He published a catalog containing 3112 double stars of the Northern sky. His merit is great in the field of geodesy. The Russo — Scandinavian arc of over 25° (2645 verstas) was measured extending along the Dorpat meridian. As contemporaries noted that great undertaking was fulfilled thanks to W. Struve's energy, knowledge and extraodinary talent. That work enabled an accurate determination of the figure of the Earth. W. Struve's heritage is great. It includes discoveries, observations and methods of observations and investigations. His activity is enetered for ever in the annals of the universal history.

E.F. Litvinova

Translated from the Russian by Irena N. Voronina  

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