Otto Struve

Otto Struve


Date of Birth
August 12, 1897
Date of Death
April 4, 1963

Otto Struve was descended from three generations of noted astronomers. His education at the University of Kharkov was interrupted by World War I and the Russian Civil War, which left him a refugee in Turkey. From there Edwin Frost brought him to Yerkes Observatory, where he completed his doctorate at the University of Chicago and promptly joined the faculty. He directed four observatories — Yerkes, McDonald (which he founded and where a telescope is named for him), Leuschner, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (where he was the first director and encouraged the first search for extraterrestrial intelligence). He edited the Astrophysical Journal for more than 15 years. As Yerkes director he recruited a staff that included some of the world’s leading astronomers, among them Bruce medalists Chandrasekhar, Greenstein, Morgan, and Strömgren. Struve made detailed spectroscopic investigations of stars, especially close binaries and peculiar stars, and of the interstellar medium, where he discovered H II regions, and gaseous nebulae. He contributed to the understanding of the broadening of spectral lines due to stellar rotation, electric fields, and turbulence and worked to separate these effects from each other and from chemical abundances. He was a pioneer in the study of mass transfer in closely interacting binary stars. He wrote more than 900 articles, many of them popular ones, and six books.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Shane, C.D., PASP 60, 155-59 (1948).

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1957.
National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1949.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1944, presented by E.A. Milne, Popular Astronomy 52, 389-91 (1944).

Some offices held

American Astronomical Society, President, 1946-49.
Astronomical Society of the Pacific, President, 1951.
International Astronomical Union, President, 1952-55.

Biographical materials

Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley
Cowling, T.G., Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society 10, 283-304 (1964).
Kourganoff, Vladimir, “Otto Struve: Scientist and Humanist,” Sky & Telescope 75, 379-81 (1988).
Krisciunas, Kevin, “More about Otto Struve,” Sky & Telescope 76, 229-30 (1988).
Krisciunas, Kevin, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 61, 350-387 (1992).
Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia, “Otto Struve as an Astrophysicist,” Sky & Telescope 25, 308 (1963).
Schorn, Ronald A., Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, 2nd ed. (Springer, NY, 2014).
Sokolovskaya, Z.K., Dictionary of Scientific Biography 13, 115-20.
Sweitzer, James S., “A Most Exceptional Star: The Life of Otto Struve,” Griffith Observer 51, 9, 2 (1987).
Unsöld, Albrecht, Sterne und Menschen (Springer-Verlag, 1972), pp. 53-60.


Chandrasekhar, S., Ap.J. 139, 423 (1964).
Goldberg, Leo, QJRAS 5, 284-290 (1964).
Kukarkin, B.V. & P.G. Kulikovskii, Astronomicheskii Zhurnal 40, 1126-29 (1963) [English Translation in Soviet Astronomy 7, 859-61 (1964)].
Odgers, G.J., JRASC 57, 170-72 (1963).
Öpik, E.J., Irish Astronomical Journal 6, 153-54 (1963).
Phillips, John G., PASP 75, 501-04 (1963).
Swings, P., l’Astronomie 77, 243-45 (1963) [in French].
Unsöld, Albrecht, Mitteilungen der Astronomischen Gesellschaft (1963).


AIP Center for History of Physics (several)
McDonald Observatory

Named after him

Lunar crater Struve
Minor planet #2227 Otto Struve
Otto Struve Telescope at McDonald Observatory


Papers, etc.

Struve’s papers are at University of Chicago Library, the Bancroft Library (finding aid) of the University of California, Berkeley, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The Niels Bohr Library & Archives holds oral history interviews, e.g., those of Jesse and Naomi Greenstein, that discuss Struve. There are unpublished autobiographical notes deposited with the Archives of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1941. For more information see Social Networks and Archival Context.

Other References: Historical

Search ADS for works about Struve

Batten, A. H., ed., Extended Atmospheres and Circumstellar Matter in Spectroscopic Binary Systems. Symposium no. 51 (Struve Memorial Symposium) held at Parksville, B.C., Canada, 6-12 September, 1972 (D. Reidel, Dordrecht & Boston, 1973).

Batten, A. H., Resolute and Undertaking Characters: the Lives of Wilhelm and Otto Struve (D. Reidel Pub. Co., Boston; 1988). [about Otto Struve’s great-grandfather and grandfather, both notable astronomers]

Chandrasekhar, S., in Remembering the University of Chicago: Teachers, Scientists and Scholars, Edward Shils, ed. (U. of Chicago Press, 1991).

DeVorkin, David, “The Maintenance of a Scientific Institution: Otto Struve, the Yerkes Observatory, and its Optical Bureau during the Second World War,” Minerva 18, 595-623 (1980).

Doel, Ronald E., Solar System Astronomy in America: Communities, Patronage, and Interdisciplinary Science, 1920-1960. (Cambridge University Press, NY, 1995).

Drake, Frank D. & Dava Sobel, “Is Anyone Out There?” (Delacorte Press, 1992) [An excerpt appears in Mercury 21, 4, 120 (Jul/Aug 1992)].

Drake, Frank D. “A Reminiscence of Project Ozma,” Cosmic Search 1, 1 (1979).

Evans, David S. & J. Derral Mulholland, Big and Bright: A History of the McDonald Observatory (Univ. of Texas Press, Austin, 1986).

Hack, M., ed., Modern Astrophysics; A Memorial to Otto Struve (Gauthier-Villars, Paris; Gordon and Breach, NY, 1967).

Hearnshaw, J. B., The Analysis of Starlight (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1986).

Herbig, George, ed., Spectroscopic Astrophysics: An Assessment of the Contributions of Otto Struve (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1970).

Hutchins, R., W.S Adams, G.P.Kuiper, W.W. Morgan, G. van Biesbroeck, O. Struve, S. Chandrasekhar, & G. Herzberg, “The Yerkes Observatory, 1897-1947,” Science 106, 195-220 (1947).

Lambert, D.L., ed., Frontiers of Stellar Evolution. Proceedings, Symposium in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of McDonald Observatory of the University of Texas at Austin, Alpine, TX, 24-28 Jul 1989.

Osterbrock, Donald E., “Fifty Years Ago: Astronomy; Yerkes Observatory; Morgan, Keenan and Kellman,” The MK Process at 50 Years,” C.J. Corbally, R.O. Gray, and R.F. Garrison, eds., ASP Conference Series, Vol. 60 (1994).

Osterbrock, Donald E., Yerkes Observatory 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997).

Other References: Scientific

Search ADS for works by Struve

Struve, Otto, “On the Origin of Bright Lines in Spectra of Stars of Class B,” Ap.J. 73, 94-103 (1931).

Swings, P. & O. Struve, “Spectrographic Observations of Peculiar Stars,” Ap.J. 91, 546-620 (1931).


Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Struve wrote hundreds of articles for Sky & Telescope. Only a few of them are listed here.

Struve, Otto, “Aid to Russian Scientists,” Dernières Nouvelles, no. 614 (1922) [in Russian].

Struve, Otto, “Freedom of Thought in Astronomy,” Sci. Mon. 40, 250-56 (1935).

Struve, Otto, “Some New Trends in Stellar Spectroscopy,” Popular Astronomy 43, 483-96 (1935) and 43, 559-67 (1935).

Struve, Otto, “Recent Progress in the Study of Reflection Nebulae,” Popular Astronomy 45, 9-23 (1937).

Struve, Otto, “The Decline of International Cooperation in Astronomy,” Science 87, 364-65 (1938).

Struve, Otto, “The Poulkovo Observatory (1839-1941),” Sky & Telescope 1, 3 (1942).

Struve, Otto, “Fifty Years of Progress in Astronomy,” Popular Astronomy 51, 469-81 (1943). See commentary by R.O. Redman, Observatory 65, 213-19 (1944) and Struve’s reply, Observatory 66, 32-34 (1945).

Struve, Otto, “Stellar Rotation,” Sky & Telescope 6, 3 (1946).

Struve, Otto, “The Two Fundamental Relations of Stellar Astronomy,” Sky & Telescope 8, 250 (1949).

Struve, Otto, “Progress in Radio Astronomy,” Sky & Telescope 9, 27 (1949) and 9, 55 (1950).

Struve, Otto, “Variable Stars and Stellar Evolution,” Sky & Telescope 9,131 (1950) and 9, 162 (1950).

Struve, Otto, “The Sun’s Motion Through Space,” Sky & Telescope 10, 35 (1950).

Struve, Otto, Stellar Evolution, an Exploration from the Observatory (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 1950).

Struve, Otto, “What I Don’t Know About Flying Saucers,” Griffith Observer 16, 12, 138-40 (1952).

Struve, Otto, “The Place of the Amateur in Astronomy,” Griffith Observer 16, 12, ? (1952).

Struve, Otto, Beverly Lynds, & Helen Pillans, Elementary Astronomy (Oxford Univ. Press, NY, 1959).

Struve, Otto, “A Historic Debate About the Universe,” Sky & Telescope 19, 398 (1960). [in this article Struve coined the term "Astronomy’s Great Debate” for the Shapley-Curtis debate of 1920]

Struve, Otto, “The National Radio Astronomy Observatory: The Outlook in 1960,” PASP 72, 177-87 (1960).

Struve, Otto, R.M. Emberson & J.W. Findlay, “The 140-Foot Radio Telescope of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory,” PASP 72, 439-58 (1960).

Struve, Otto, “Milestones in Double Star Astronomy,” Sky & Telescope 24, 17 (1962).

Struve, Otto, “The Birth of McDonald Observatory,” Sky & Telescope 24, 316 (1962).

Struve, Otto & Velta Zebergs, Astronomy of the 20th Century (Macmillan, NY, 1962).

Struve, Otto, The Universe [Karl Compton 1959 lectures] (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1962).