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Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (1793-1864)
Born 15 April 1793(1793-04-15)
Altona, Denmark
Died 23 November 1864 (aged 71)
Nationality Russian
Ethnicity European
Fields astronomy
Alma mater University of Tartu

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (Russian: Vasily Yakovlevich Struve) (April 15, 1793 – November 23, 1864 (Julian calendar: November 11)) was a Baltic-German astronomer from a famous dynasty of astronomers.



He was born at Altona then part of Denmark, in what is now Germany, the son of Jacob Struve (1755–1841), and was the second of an entire family of astronomers through five generations. He was the great-grandfather of Otto Struve and the father of Otto Wilhelm von Struve. He was also the grandfather of Hermann Struve, who was Otto Struve's uncle. Struve's father Jacob moved the family from French-occupied Germany to Livonia in Imperial Russia to avoid military service.

In 1808 he entered the University of Tartu in Estonia, where he first studied philology, but soon turned his attention to astronomy. From 1813 to 1820 he taught at the university and observed at Dorpat Observatory in Tartu, and in 1820 became a full professor and director of the observatory.

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve remained at Tartu, occupied with research on double stars and geodesy until 1839, when he founded and became director of the new Pulkovo Observatory near St Petersburg. Among other honors, he won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1826, and was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1833. He retired in 1862 due to failing health.

The asteroid 768 Struveana was named jointly in his honour and that of Otto Wilhelm von Struve and Karl Hermann Struve.


Struve's name is best known for his observations of double stars, which he carried on for many years. Although double stars had been studied earlier by William Herschel and John Herschel and Sir James South, Struve outdid any previous efforts. He discovered a very large number of double stars and in 1827 published his double star catalogue Catalogus novus stellarum duplicium.

Since most double stars are true binary stars rather than mere optical doubles (as William Herschel had been the first to discover), they orbit around one another's barycenter and slowly change position over the years. Thus Struve made micrometric measurements of 2714 double stars from 1824 to 1837 and published these in his work Stellarum duplicium et multiplicium mensurae micrometricae.

Struve carefully measured the "constant of aberration" in 1843. He was also the first to measure the parallax of Vega, although Friedrich Bessel had been the first to measure the parallax of a star (61 Cygni).

In an 1847 work, Etudes d'Astronomie Stellaire: Sur la voie lactee et sur la distance des etoiles fixes, Struve was one of the first astronomers to identify the effects of interstellar extinction (though he provided no mechanism to explain the effect). His estimate of the average rate of visual extinction, 1 mag per kpc, is remarkably close to modern estimates (0.7-1.0 mag per kpc).

He was also interested in geodetic surveying, and in 1831 published Beschreibung der Breitengradmessung in den Ostseeprovinzen Russlands. He initiated the Struve Geodetic Arc, which was a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through ten countries and over 2,820 km. UNESCO has the chain on its List of World Heritage Sites in Europe.


In 1815 he married Emilie Wall (1796 – 1834) in Altona, who bore 12 children, 8 of which survived early childhood. In addition to Otto Wilhelm von Struve, other children were Heinrich or Genrikh Vasilyevich Struve (1822 – 1908), a prominent chemist, and Bernhard Vasilyevich Struve (1827 – 1889), who served as a government official in Siberia and later as governor of Astrakhan and Perm.

After his first wife died, he remarried to Johanna Henriette Francisca Bartels (1807 – 1867), a daughter of the mathematician Martin Bartels[1], who bore him six more children. The most well-known was Karl de Struve (1835 – 1907), who served successively as Russian ambassador to Japan, the United States, and the Netherlands.

Bernhard's son Pyotr Berngardovich Struve (1870-1944) is probably the best known member of the family in Russia. He was one of the first Russian marxists and penned the Manifesto of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party upon its creation in 1898. Even before the party split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Struve left it for the Constitutional Democratic party, which promoted ideas of liberalism. He represented this party at all the pre-revolutionary State Dumas. After the Russian Revolution, he published several striking articles on its causes and joined the White movement. In the governments of Pyotr Wrangel and Denikin he was one of the ministers. During the following three decades, he lived in Paris, while his children were prominent in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

See also


  1. ^ (Russian) Struve dynasty (PDF)

External links


Simple English

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (April 15, 1793November 23, 1864 (Julian calendar: November 11)) was a German-born Russian astronomer. He was born in Altona (now an area of Hamburg), Germany, but later lived in Russia. He was an expert on double stars and one of the first astronomers to measure stellar parallax (closely related to the work by Friedrich Bessel).

While director of Dorpat Observatory (181739) he wrote Stellarum Duplicum et Multiplicum (1837), which proved that double stars are not exceptional and that star systems are governed by the laws of gravity. Struve added a lot to the study of galactic structure and also engaged in notable geodetic operations such as the triangulation of Livonia and the measurement of an arc of the meridian. In 1839 he became director of the new Pulkovo Observatory and was one of the first three astronomers who almost simultaneously obtained an approximate stellar parallax. (One of the others being Bessel)

In 1822 he published the first of many double-star catalogues, the identifying numbers of which are still used today. Struve's stars, however, are now often named in his honor (for example, Struve 2398), whereas the original catalogue prefix was the Greek letter sigma. In 1833 he moved to Russia to set up the Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg, of which he was director until his retirement in 1862, when his son took over in the post. In total, Friedrich Struve produced 272 astronomical works and 18 children; his great-grandson Otto, by contrast, produced 907 works but zero children.

His son, Otto Wilhelm von Struve (18191905) succeeded him as director (1862–89) of the Pulkovo Observatory.


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