von Struve, Freidrich Georg Wilhelm

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (April 15, 1793 ““ November 23, 1864) was a Baltic-German astronomer, and member of a celebrated line of astronomers. He is best known for his advanced observations of double-stars.

He was born in Altona, Denmark, what is currently Germany. He was the son of the renowned Jacob Struve, and was the second of a five-generation legacy of astronomers down to his great-grandchildren. When Germany was occupied by the French, Struve’s father, Jacob, relocated the family to Livonia in Imperial Russia to evade military service.

Struve moved back to Altona in his adult years, and in 1815 he married Emilie Wall. Together they had 12 children, with only 8 surviving early childhood.

His first wife died and Struve married Johanna Henriette Francisca Bartels who bore him 6 more children. Many of his children, and their children, served prominent roles in politics and science as adults. The best known of these, his grandson, Pyotr Berngardovich Struve, was one of the original Russian marxists and penned the Manifesto of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party upon its creation in 1898.

He attended the University of Tartu in Estonia beginning in 1808, where he initially studied philology, but soon switched his studies to astronomy. In 1813, he became a teacher at the university, then, after he achieved full professor status in 1820, he continued educating under his new title. Also in 1820, he became director of the Dorpat Observatory in Tartu, where he had been working in conjunction with the teaching position he held for so many years.

Struve focused his research at Tartu on double stars and geodesy until 1839, when he established and became director of the new Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg.

Struve later became involved with the study of double stars, and carried passion for this study for many years. Double stars had been studied previously by William Herschel, John Herschel, and Sir James South, but Struve’s observations surpassed any of the original findings. In 1827, he published a catalogue entitled, Catalogus novus stellarum duplicium, which was an account of all the double stars he had discovered. And, and in an additional work, Stellarum duplicium et multplicium mensurae micrometricae, he calculated micrometric measurements of 2,714 double stars from 1824 to 1837.

In 1831, his published piece on geodetic surveying, Beschreibung der Breitengradmessung in den Ostseeprovinzen Russlands, discussed the Struve Geodetic Arc conception. This was a chain of survey triangulations reaching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through ten countries and over 2,820km. The UNESCO has appointed the chain to its List of World Heritage Sites in Europe.

In 1843, he also measured the “constant of aberration.” Although Friedrich Bessel was the first to measure the parallax of a star, Struve measured the parallax of Vega.

One of the first astronomers to recognize the effects of interstellar extinction, Struve encompassed his findings in his 1847 work, d’Astronomie Stellaire: Sur la voie lactee et sur la distance des etoiles fixes. Remarkably, he estimated the average rate of visual extinction, 1 mag per kpc, and it closely calculates to modern estimates (0.7-1.0 mag per kpc).

He was honored with the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1826.

In 1862, he was prompted to retire his studies due to failing health.

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