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Schwarzschild, Karl

SCHWARZSCHILD, KARL (1873–1916), German astronomer and mathematician. Born in Frankfurt, Schwarzschild published his first paper, on celestial mechanics, at the age of 15, and worked at the Kuffner Observatory, Vienna, from 1897 to 1899. Schwarzschild taught at the University of Goettingen in 1901 and was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences in 1905. In 1909 he was appointed director of the Astrophysikalisches Observatorium in Potsdam, and in 1913, a member of the Berlin Academy and professor at the university. In 1914 he was involved in war work and contracted the rare infectious disease that was to kill him. His achievements were far ahead of his time; he probed deeply into the field of astronomy, celestial mechanics, stellar motions, the foundations of the new science of astrophysics, and into wide areas of theoretical physics, optics, electricity, and atomic theory. He achieved lasting results of fundamental importance. His great quality was the mathematical insight which enabled him to think about, and work simultaneously on, two or three problems which to other researchers appeared to belong to quite different areas. He was an eminently practical man, devising new instruments and advanced observational methods which remained valid often with only very small modifications. His lectures were prototypes of lucidity, and his success in transmitting the most difficult ideas was unrivaled. Several lectures have become classic, for instance "Vom Universum" (Frankfurt, 1908).

His son, MARTIN (1912– ), was an astronomer and astrophysicist. Born in Potsdam, Germany, he became a research fellow at the Institute for Theoretical Astronomy in Oslo (1935–36) and then emigrated to the United States. He was appointed professor of astronomy at Princeton University in 1950. His contributions to astronomy cover a wide range, centered mainly around the complex problems of stellar structure and evolution. His publications include a monograph, Structure and Evolution of the Stars (1958). He was involved in astronomical space programs. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in London in 1968.


Born, in: Vistas in Astronomy, 1 (1955), 41–4; S. Oppenheim, in: Vierteljahrsschrift der astronomischen Gesellschaft, 58 (1923), 191–209; Sommerfeld, in: Umschau, 20 (1916), 941–6; L.G. Henyey, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 77 (1965), 233–6.