Max Wolf

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Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf
Wolfs 6 "- double astrograph
Max Wolf's birthplace with his first observatory in the roof structure of the building
Max Wolf's birth house in Heidelberg

Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf (born June 21, 1863 in Heidelberg ; † October 3, 1932 there ) was a German astronomer , founder and director of the Badische Landessternwarte Heidelberg-Königstuhl , professor in Heidelberg and discoverer of many asteroids (minor planets). He is also considered a pioneer of galactic astrophotography .


Wolf grew up in a wealthy family. His father Franz Wolf (1840–1924) was a general practitioner and was therefore able to generously support his son's passion for astronomy. When he was still a schoolboy, his father let him add an observation terrace for his telescopes in 1880 on his parents' house at Märzgasse 16. After Max Wolf had enrolled, his father expanded the annex with an observatory, which consisted of a tower with a rotating 5-meter dome and a 6-inch refractor as an observation instrument. This private observatory was probably the father of his wish to be able to observe the course of the stars in a large observatory in Heidelberg.

Wolf studied in Strasbourg and Heidelberg , where he received his doctorate in 1888 . He went to Stockholm for further studies , but returned to Heidelberg in 1890 to teach there. In 1896 Wolf took over the chair for astronomy. He consistently relied on astrophotography as an observation method and discovered a comet as early as 1884 and, a few years later, the North American Nebula in the swan . On December 22, 1891, Max Wolf was the first astronomer to find a minor planet using photographic methods, which he named " (323) Brucia " in honor of the American science patron Catherine Wolfe Bruce .

The new grand-ducal mountain observatory was inaugurated on the Königstuhl near Heidelberg in 1898, today's State Observatory Heidelberg-Königstuhl . Wolf succeeded in persuading private donors, including Catherine Wolfe Bruce, to purchase telescopes , after which the telescopes are named today. The institute initially consisted of two competing departments, the astrophysical under Wolf and the astrometric under Karl Wilhelm Valentiner , but was united under Max Wolf in 1909 after Valentin's retirement in 1909. In the same year, Wolf succeeded in rediscovering Halley's comet when it passed through perihelion in 1909/1910.

Important areas of work and outstanding achievements

Max Wolf's main areas of work during this time were the cataloging of astronomical nebulae , especially in the constellations Orion and Swan (constellation) . Using spectroscopy , he made gas mist , gaseous states of aggregation , visible. In 1913, Wolf was the first to notice systematic line shifts in the spectra of the spiral nebulae . The Wolf diagram was named after Max Wolf , a stellar statistical tool for determining the distances and dimensions of stellar dark clouds .

The best-known field of work of Max Wolf today was his search for minor planets, of which he himself discovered 228, including the first Trojan in 1906 , (588) Achilles . At the institute, he and his staff or his successors, including Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth , discovered over 800 minor planets by the 1950s, a record that was only recently broken with large-scale survey programs.

Together with Johann Palisa in Vienna, the first star atlas for the search and identification of newly discovered celestial bodies was created . Later, the two original competitors - Palisa had already visually discovered over 100 asteroids - published the photographic Palisa Wolf Star Atlas , which covered the entire starry sky visible in Central Europe in 210 large-scale sheets.


He himself named the asteroid he discovered in 1902 (495) Eulalie after his grandmother's first name .

Honorary grave of the astronomer Max Wolf in the forest department (Dept. WB) at the Bergfriedhof (Heidelberg)

Max Wolf remained a researching astronomer until his death. He died on the Königstuhl in Heidelberg and was buried in the Heidelberg Bergfriedhof in the forest department (WB). In one of the obituaries it is written: "This saved him from leaving his place of work as a living person."

His tomb is adorned by a large boulder on which, in addition to his life data, the following lines, written by himself, based on Ps 19.2  LUT , The heavens tell the glory of God, and the feasts proclaim the work of his hands , and Ludwig van Beethoven's hymnal setting of the first two stanzas by the poet Christian Fürchtegott Gellert , The Heavens boast , can be read in Greek meter :

The heavens praise the eternal honor through the
powerfully ordered course according to the sublime law.
They opened their depths to the researcher and with a shudder
I felt the divine hand that they created with love.

Web links

Commons : Max Wolf  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Minor Planet Discoverers
  2. Maximilian Wolf (June 21, 1863 - October 3, 1932) German astronomer and pioneer of astrophotography. In: Denkmalpflege Heidelberger Friedhöfe eV 2019, accessed on March 22, 2019 .
  3. ^ List of members Leopoldina, Max Wolf
  4. ^ Max Wolf in the membership directory of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences
  5. ^ Max Wolf obituary in the 1933 yearbook of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (PDF file)