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Otto Struve

August 12, 2022

Otto Struve knew an opportunity when he saw one.

The University of Chicago astronomer knew that his institution needed a big new telescope to supplement the 40-inch refractor at Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin. Yet Chicago didn’t have the money to pay for one.

When William J. McDonald left his fortune to the University of Texas to build an observatory, Struve suggested a partnership: Texas would provide the observatory, and Chicago would provide the astronomers. Texas agreed, and the two universities signed a 30-year deal. Struve, recently promoted to the directorship of Yerkes, would also direct the new McDonald Observatory.

Struve was born 125 years ago today, in Ukraine. He was a fourth-generation astronomer. He served in the Russian army, then was offered a job with the University of Chicago. Struve arrived in 1921, earned a Ph.D., and worked his way up through the astronomy program.

Struve oversaw design and construction of McDonald Observatory’s 82-inch telescope — the second-largest telescope in the world. It was dedicated in 1939. Struve spent long hours using the telescope to study the stars, while building up the Chicago astronomy faculty.

Conflicts with his young scientists eventually led to Struve’s resignation. Yet his name continues to resound in West Texas: McDonald Observatory named the 82-inch telescope in his honor.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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