Carl Hermann* Struve (1854 - 1920)

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Birthplace: Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
Death: Died in Bad Herrenalb, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Cause of death: heart attack
Occupation: Astronomer
Managed by: Elle Kiiker
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About Carl Hermann* Struve

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Hermann Struve

Hermann Struve Born October 3, 1854(1854-10-03) Saint Peterburg, Russian Empire Died August 12, 1920(1920-08-12) (aged 65) Bad Herrenalb, Germany Nationality Baltic German Fields astronomer Institutions Pulkovo Observatory (1882-1895) Königsberg Observatory Berlin Observatory(1904-1920) Alma mater University of Dorpat Notable awards Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1903

Karl Hermann Struve (October 3, 1854 – August 12, 1920) was a Baltic German astronomer born in Russia. In Russian, his name is sometimes given as German Ottovich Struve (Герман Оттович Струве) or German Ottonovich Struve (Герман Оттонович Струве).

Herman Struve was a part of the famous group of astronomers from the Struve family, which also included his grandfather Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, father Otto Wilhelm von Struve, brother Ludwig Struve and nephew Otto Struve. Unlike other astronomers of the Struve family, Herman spent most of his career in Germany. Continuing the family tradition, Struve's research was focused on determining position of stellar object. He was particular known for his work on satellites of planets of the Solar System and development of the intersatellite method of correcting their orbital position. The mathematical Struve function is named after him.


   * 1 Biography
   * 2 Family matters
   * 3 Research
   * 4 Awards and honors
   * 5 References
   * 6 Partial family tree of Struve family

Herman was born in 1854 in Tsarskoye Selo – a former Russian residence of the imperial family and visiting nobility, located 26 kilometers (16 mi) south from the center of St. Petersburg. He attended gymnasium in Vyborg and in 1872 entered the Tartu University (Tartu was known then as Dorpat). While studying there, in 1874–1875, Struve participated in an expedition to observe transit of Venus through the disk of the Sun. That observation was carried out at Port Poisset on the Asiatic East Coast. After graduation in 1877, he became member of the Pulkovo Observatory and was sent abroad for two-year post-graduate studies. Accompanied by his cousin's husband, Struve stayed in several cities, including Strasbourg, Paris, Milan, Graz and Berlin, learning from such celebrities as Helmholtz, Kirchhoff, Boltzmann and Weierstrass. After returning to Russia, he joined the staff of Pulkovo Observatory, studying the satellites of Saturn among other things.[1]

In 1881, Struve obtained his master degree at the University of Tartu, with the highest honors, and in 1882 defended a PhD thesis at Saint Petersburg University (Pulkovo had no associated educational institutions). Both works were in the field of optics, in particular, the master thesis was titled "On Fresnel interference phenomenon – theoretical and experimental work" – according to Struve himself, despite the family traditions, he did not intend then to become an astronomer. However later, he got excited with his father's project of building an 30-inch telescope at Pulkovo and with the fantastic new possibilities for observation. Struve used that telescope a lot during his work. In 1883, he was appointed adjunct astronomer at Pulkovo Observatory.[1]

By then, Struve family was highly respected in Russia and Tsar Alexander III had a strong wish for Hermann to succeed his father Otto as the director of the Pulkovo Observatory. However, Hermann politely declined the offer mentioning that he was in the middle of crucial observations of Saturn which would be interrupted by administrative tasks. In 1890, Struve was appointed as the senior astronomer at Pulkovo with the clear understanding that he should become director after completing his Saturn work. However, the death of Alexander III in 1894 freed Struve from this task. The pro-Russian views were gradually developing in the Russian society, including science, and foreigners felt progressively more alienated. Therefore, when in 1895 Struve was offered position of professor at Königsberg University, he gladly accepted and moved his family to Germany.[1] There, he succeeded W. Foerster as director of Königsberg Observatory. Struve was also called for the task of rescuing the Berlin Observatory. It was then located in the center of Berlin where astronomy observations were not practical and rents were too high, and discussions of its relocation stalled. Struve managed to sell the old observatory site so profitably that he could build a new observatory from scratch. The location was chosen at Neubabelsberg, near Potsdam and 25 kilometers (16 mi) from the center of Berlin, and the new institution was named Berlin-Babelsberg Observatory. There, he started installing a 26-inch Zeiss refractor and a 48-inch reflector, which should then become the largest telescope in Germany. While he did not get to operate them himself, due to delays caused by World War I, the refractor was much used by his son Georg and reflector by his less known grandson Wilfried.[1]

In 1905, Struve became professor of the University of Berlin[2] and from 1904 until his death in 1920, he served as director of the Berlin-Babelsberg Observatory.[3][4][5] Struve's death was accelerated by a heart illness which he suffered from during his late years and by a bad fall from a tram car in 1919. He broke a thigh, and while recovering in a sanatorium in Bad Herrenalb, died of a heart attack.[1]

Family matters

Whereas many colleagues described Struve as a stern and serious person, within his family, he was seen as a cultivated man, who enjoyed music and friends and was very proud of the Struve family traditions. Yet even among relatives, he was known as inflexible in matters of principle.[1]

Struve married in 1885 to the daughter of a cousin of his father. They had a son Georg Otto Hermann and a daughter Elisabeth. George was born on 29 December 1886 in Tsarskoye Selo, Russia, and later became famous astronomer.[6] Hermann's wife Eva Struve played important role in rescuing his nephew Otto. After escaping from the Soviet Russia in 1920, for a year and half he was stranded penniless in Turkey. Otto wrote to his uncle for help, unaware of his death, but Eva asked assistance of Paul Guthnick, her late husband's successor at the Berlin-Babelsberg Observatory. Whereas Guthnick was not in position to offer job to Struve in Germany, he highly recommended Struve to the director of Yerkes Observatory in Chicago, who not only found job for Struve at Yerkes, but also arranged a visa for him and paid for his travel.[7]


As all astronomers of the Struve family, Herman was mostly working on establishing position and movements of single and double stars and satellites of the planets of the Solar System. In 1885, a 30-inch refracting telescope was installed at Pulkovo, at the time the largest in the world (see great refractor). Struve was the first user of that telescope, which he used mostly for determining positions of a large number of double stars. His other major topic was Saturn, but he also studied Mars, Neptune and the fifth moon of Jupiter. He could not observe Uranus from Pulkovo because it was too far south. In 1888, Struve discovered libration of Hyperion (the sevenths moon of Saturn) and explained it by the perturbing action of the largest Saturn's moon, Titan.[3] The same year, he introduced method of intersatelite method of correcting orbital position of satellites. The method was rather successful because systematic errors in visual observations of some planets, such as Mars, were unacceptably large. Struve however realized that the method had flaws and recommended combining planet/satellite and intersatellite measurements.[8] In 1892, Struve discovered libration of two other moons of Saturn, Mimas and Enceladus.[3] His observations of the moon of Mars, Phobos, were later used by B. Sharpless in studying the secular acceleration of its orbit.[5][9]

Struve was known not only as astronomer, but also as mathematician. In 1882, he introduced a function to describe the intensity of a luminous line.[10][11] This function also describes solutions of Bessel's differential equation; it therefore is widely used in mathematics and is named as Struve function.

After moving to Königsberg Observatory, Struve built a 32.5-inch refractor telescope there and continued his work on the moons of Saturn, last observations of which he made in 1916. His other topics included study of atmospheric refraction, stellar parallaxes, drawings of Jupiter, determination of the position of the Mars' equator, the amount of its oblateness and the rate of motion of the nodes.[6]

Awards and honors

In 1897, Struve received the Damoiseau Prize from the French Academy of Sciences and in 1903 the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, both for his work on satellites of Saturn.[6] He was the third (after Friedrich Georg Wilhelm and Otto Wilhelm) member of Struve family to receive that medal.[12] The asteroid 768 Struveana was named in honor of Herman, Otto Wilhelm and Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve.[13]

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Carl Hermann* Struve's Timeline

October 3, 1854
Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
December 29, 1886
Age 32
Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
August 12, 1920
Age 65
Bad Herrenalb, Baden-Württemberg, Germany