Struve Vasily Yakovlevich

Russian astronomer and surveyor, academician of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
Born in the city of Alton near Hamburg in the family of the director of the gymnasium. Under the guidance of his father, he was mainly engaged in philology and by the age of fifteen had been prepared for university entrance. His older brother taught at the Dorpat gymnasium, and this was to some extent the reason that Struve chose to study at the University of Dorpat. Here he continued to study philology, received a philology diploma, however, fascinated by Parrot's brilliant lectures in physics, on the advice of the latter, he began to study astronomy.
In 1813, Struve defended his master's thesis on "The Geographical Location of the Derpt Observatory", and in the same year he was enrolled as an extraordinary professor at the University of Derpt and an astronomer-observer at the university observatory. He taught courses in spherical and practical astronomy, geodesy, and many others at a significantly higher level than his predecessors. In the years 1818-1820 Struve headed the newly formed Department of Astronomy, during 1818–1839  was the director of the Dorpat observatory. He attracted young scientists to work and equipped the observatory with the latest instruments, among which the refractor of the work of J. Fraunhofer was particularly notable. This telescope had excellent optical and mechanical qualities and was at that time the largest in the world.
In 1830, Struve joined the commission for the organization and construction of the Pulkovo Observatory. Two years later he was elected an ordinary academician of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences, and in 1834 for an audience with Emperor Nicholas I, he was appointed director of the observatory under construction and sent abroad to order the best tools that the best craftsmen could make. The rest of Struve's life is connected with the Nikolaev main observatory in Pulkovo, which he headed until 1862. Its construction and all the tools are described in detail in Struve’s voluminous work: “Description de l'observatoire astronomique central de Poulkova”. The first job after the opening of the observatory was to determine its latitude and longitude.
Under the guidance and with the direct participation of Struve in the Pulkovo Observatory, highly accurate methods for determining the coordinates of stars were developed. The star catalogs of the observatory, created by Struve and his students, had no equal in accuracy. The Pulkovo Observatory gained fame as the “astronomical capital of the world”.
Struve carried out the fundamental work of detecting, measuring and determining the exact positions of binary and multiple stars. He is considered the founder of this branch of astronomy. In 1827, as a result of viewing about 120 thousand stars, Struve published a catalog of 3110 double and multiple stars, 2343 of which were discovered by him. In 1837, his work Micrometric Measurements of Double Stars was published, in which more than 11 thousand measurements of stars made by Struve during 12 years on a Dorpat refractor were given. Both catalogs were awarded medals of the Royal Astronomical Society of London. In 1852, the “Average Provisions” catalog was published, in which the results of observations of 2874 stars made by Struve and his assistants in Dorpat during 1822–1843 are presented. These catalogs were repeatedly used subsequently in works on stellar astronomy.
In the Pulkovo Observatory under the direction of Struve, a system of astronomical constants was defined, which was generally accepted for 50 years. With the help of the transit instrument constructed according to the idea of Struve, he produced the classical definition of permanent aberration. Of great importance for the development of stellar astronomy was his work “Etudes star astronomy”, in which the assumption of the existence of light absorption in interstellar space was substantiated and the fact of increasing the number of stars per unit volume as it approached the Milky Way plane was established.
Struve also made a great contribution to the development of geodesy. In 1822–1827 under his leadership, the arc of a meridian measuring 3° 35' long was made from the island of Gogland in the Gulf of Finland to the city of Jacobstadt. In 1828, this arc was associated with an arc measured in southwest Russia under the guidance of K.N. Tenner, then these measurements were continued from north to south, as a result of which the length of the entire measured arc was increased to 25° 20'. The arc is called the Russian-Scandinavian, or Struve arc. Shortly before his death, in 1862, for work on the degree measurement of the arc of the meridian in a huge area from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the mouth of the Danube, Struve was awarded the Constantine Medal of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society.
Struve founded the Pulkovo school of astrometry and for a long time determined the style of scientific work in the observatory, distinguished by high accuracy and reliability. He had a great influence on the development of astronomy in Russia. His students became famous astronomers and directors of many observatories. Struve was directly involved in the planning and coordination of observatory work. Under his leadership, officers of the Russian fleet and the general staff were trained at the Derpt and Pulkovo observatories. During his stay in Dorpat, he supervised the preparation of students of the "professorial institute", which was intended to prepare for the professorship of those who graduated from the university. In particular, A.N. Savich, who later became a professor at Petersburg University.
Struve was an honorary member of all Russian universities, many foreign academies of science and scientific societies.
In January 1858, Struve suddenly fell ill. Although the disease (malignant abscess) was over, his strength was forever broken. He handed over the observatory management to his son O.V. Struve and almost did not study science.
He died in St. Petersburg and was buried in the cemetery of the Pulkovo Observatory.
Mountains on the island of West Svalbard. Called by Russian-Swedish expedition on the "degree measurement" of 1899–1901.


Return to the main page