Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf

Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf


Date of Birth
June 12, 1863
Date of Death
October 3, 1932

Max Wolf earned his Ph.D. at the University of Heidelberg, studied in Stockholm for two years, and then returned to spend the rest of his life at Heidelberg, where he founded and directed the Königstuhl Observatory and served as professor of astrophysics. He used wide-field photography to study the Milky Way and used statistical treatment of star counts to prove the existence of clouds of dark matter. He was among the first astronomers to show that the spiral nebulae have absorption spectra typical of stars and thus differ from gaseous nebulae. He discovered hundreds of asteroids, the first of which he named Brucia in honor of the donor of his 16-inch double telescope, Catherine Wolfe Bruce. He discovered the first Trojan asteroid, Achilles, as well as thousands of nebulae and galaxies. A co-developer of the stereocomparator, Wolf also suggested the idea of the modern planetarium while advising on the new Deutsches Museum in Munich.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Seares, Frederick H.PASP 42, 5-22 (1930).

Other awards

Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1914, presented by E.H. Hills, MNRAS 74, 377-389 (1914).

Some offices held

Astronomische Gesellschaft, President, 1930-31.

Biographical materials

Freiesleben, H.-Christ., Dictionary of Scientific Biography 14, 481-82.
Freiesleben, Hans-Christian, Max Wolf: Der Bahnbrecher der Himmelsphotographie, 1863-1932 (Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 1962) [review by Charlotte Schmidt, in German].
Knill, Oliver, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 1237-38.
Kopf, August, Max Wolf: mit einer Bibliographie Uber Max Wolfs Lebenswerk (Poeschel & Trepte, Leipzig, 1933).
Lemke, Dietrich, “Etwas anderes als Astronom kann man eigentlich gar nicht werden ...” Sterne und Weltraum, July 2013, pp. 40-51. [free download for subscribers only]
Schaifers, K., “Max Wolf, 1863-1932,” Semper Apertus, Sechshundert Jahre Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelbergo 1386-1986, Festschrift in 6 Bänden (Springer-Verlag, 1985), III, 97-113.
Tenn, Joseph S., “Max Wolf: The Twenty-Fifth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury  23, 4, 27-28 (1994).
Wolfschmidt, Gudrun, “Max Wolf as a Pioneer of Astrophotography,” abstract of talk presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Astronomische Gesellschaft at Heidelberg, September 14–19, 1998.


Kopff, August, “Max Wolf 1863-1932: Ein Gedenkblatt, [memorial celebration]” Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse, 1933, no. 4 (Berlin, 1933).
MacPherson, Hector, Observatory 55, 355-59 (1932).
R[eynolds], J.H., MNRAS 93, 236-238 (1933).


Steinicke, Wolfgang [includes photos of Wolf’s observatories as well].
Heidelberg University Library, with Phillip Lennard.

Named after him

Lunar crater Wolf
Minor planet #827 Wolfiana
Irregular Galaxy Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte [with Knut Lundmark & P.J. Melote]


Papers, etc.

Wolf’s papers are at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.

Other References: Historical

Search ADS for works about Wolf

Bok, Bart, “Wolf’s Method of Measuring Dark Nebulae,” in Shapley, Harlow, ed., Source Book in Astronomy, 1900-1950 (Harvard, 1960)

Chartrand, Mark R., “A Fifty Year Anniversary of a Two Thousand Year Dream [The History of the Planetarium],” The Planetarium, Sept. 1973.

Driesen, Hans Erhard, “Stereoaufnahmen von Max Wolf,” (Sterne und Weltraum, October 2013, p. 8. ).

Gehrels, Tom, ed., Asteroids (Univ. of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1979).

Hoffleit, Dorrit, Astronomy at Yale, 1901-68 (Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences, New Haven, 1993), p. 214.

Kowal, Charles T., Asteroids: Their Nature and Utilization (Ellis Horwood, Ltd., Chichester, UK, 1988).

Osterbrock, Donald E., “Getting the Picture: Wide-field Astronomical Photography from Barnard to the Achromatic Schmidt 1888-1992,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 25, 1-14 (1994).

Other References: Scientific

Search ADS for works by Wolf

Wolf, M., “The Part Taken by Large Instruments in Astronomical Observations.,” Astr. Reg. 24, 197-205 (1886) [translation of lecture delivered at the Sorbonne].

Wolf, Max, “Notiz Uber photographirte Meteoriten und Cometen,” Astr. Nach. 129, 101-04 (1892).

Huggins, W., M.L. Huggins, M. Wolf, H.C. VogelE.C. Pickering, R. Schumacher, L. Arndt, & J. Plassmann, “Ueber den neuen stern in Auriga,” Astron. Nach. 129, 107-16 (1892).

Wolf, Max, “Photographische Aufnahmen von kleinen Planeten,” Astr. Nach. 129, 337-44 (1892).

Schaeberle, J.M., “Note on the Visual Magnitude of the Faintest Stars Photographed by Dr. Max Wolf, at Heidelberg,” Astronomical Journal 15, 16 (1895).

Wolf, Max, “Die Photographie der Planetoiden,” Astr. Nachr. 139, 97-112 (1895).

Wolf, Max, “On the use of the Stereo-comparator for Plates on which a Réseau has been Impressed,” MNRAS 64, 112-18 (1903) [includes additional remarks by H.H. Turner].

Wolf, Max, Die Photographie des Sternhimmels: erläutert an Königstuhl-Aufnahmen ; Vortrag gehalten in Karlsruhe im März 1903 (Liesegang, Dusseldorf, 1904).

Wolf, Max, “Die Klassifizierung der kleinen Nebelflecken,” Publikationen des Astrophysikalischen Instituts Koenigstuhl-Heidelberg 3, 109-12 (1908).

Wolf, Max, Die Milchstrasse (J.A. Barth, Leipzig, 1908) [review by E.E. B[arnard]].

Wolf, Max, Stereoskopbilder vom Sternhimmel, 1 Serie (J.A. Barth, Leipzig, 1906).

Wolf, Max, “Über den dunklen Nebel NGC 6960,” Astr. Nach.219, 109-116 (1923). Translated [as “On the Dark Nebula NGC 6960”] and discussed in Lang, K.R. & O. Gingerich, A Source Book in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1900-1975 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1979), pp. 566-71.

Wolf, Max, Die Milchstrasse und die kosmischen Nebel (Verlag die Sterne, Potsdam, 1925).