Oppolzer Theodore

(26.10.1841 26.12.1886) 

Austrian astronomer, member of the Vienna Academy of Sciences, member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

His father, an eminent medical scientist, soon after the birth of his son, moved first to Leipzig for a short time and then to Vienna, where he occupied the department at the university.

In 1859  after graduating from high school, Theodore entered the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna, while he was engaged in mathematics and astronomy. In 1864  he took up medical practice, but it did not last long - his entire subsequent life was devoted to astronomical research, combining them with teaching at his home university, receiving in 1875 a professorship.

The main scientific works of Oppolzer are devoted to the determination of the orbits of comets and planets, solar and lunar eclipses, some issues of theoretical astronomy, geodesy, gravimetry. Since 1873  he headed the pan-European work in Austria-Hungary related to degree measurements; organized the work on the definition of longitude more than 40 points and participated in them.

In the years 1880-1882 he published the two-volume "Course of the determination of the orbits of comets and planets".  In 1884 Oppolzer made the absolute definition of the acceleration of gravity, which served as the basis for the so-called Vienna system of relative definitions of the acceleration of gravity.

As early as the end of the 1860s Oppolzer was convinced that in order to identify the ancient eclipses mentioned in the annals, the list of eclipses with the indication of their areas of visibility was not enough. Therefore, he decided not only to draw up such a list, but also to calculate for each eclipse elements that allow, if necessary, to determine the conditions for the appearance of an eclipse for a given place or for the Earth in general. Such work would be very difficult for a whole team of calculators. Nevertheless, Oppolzer, not retreating before great difficulties, decided not to confine himself to the ancient eclipses of the Sun and the Moon alone, but to calculate all eclipses from ancient times (from 1208 before the new era) to our days and three centuries ahead. (until 2161 year). The task was 8000 solar and 5200 lunar eclipses!

He managed to interest this work of five surveyors and astronomers who agreed to voluntarily participate in the calculation of eclipses. However, purely mechanical calculations using the developed stencil could not satisfy the qualified specialists for a long time, and Oppolzer had to hire personal computers that were paid for by themselves. Some of them later became famous scientists.

In the Canon of Eclipses (1887), which was the result of nearly twenty years of work, the scientist calculated the elements of 8 thousand solar and 5200 lunar eclipses from 1207 BC to 2163 new era. The basis of his fundamental research was the theory of the motion of the moon, developed by P.A. Hansen, and then transformed by Oppolzer. The “Canon of Eclipses” is important not only for astronomy, but also for history and chronology. He allowed to put many events of ancient history into a single temporary grid, decipher the ancient civilizations of the East (Egypt, Assyria, India and China), clarify the theory of the motion of the moon, explore the secular slowing down of the Earth's rotation.

Oppolzer’s good health was undermined by his titanic work. After a short illness he passed away in Vienna at the age of only 45 years old. He was buried in Vienna at the Zentralfriedhof (Central) cemetery.

It is hard to find another person in the history of science who, in such a short life, could manage to perform such a large number of works of a wide range.

Oppolzer successfully predicted lunar and solar eclipses. In addition to eclipses, he could tell a lot about floods and droughts, tornadoes and dust storms. If desired, a scientist could predict people's fate, but no one ever asked him to.

Cape in the southeast of the island of McClintock in the archipelago of Franz Josef Land. Opened and named in 1874 by Yu. Payer.


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