Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Wolf, Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German astronomer. He developed new photographic methods for observational astronomy. He discovered several new nebulae, both within the Milky Way and outside our Galaxy; more than 200 asteroids; and in 1883 a comet, which now bears his name.

Life Wolf was born in Heidelberg. He studied at Heidelberg and later mathematical astronomy in Sweden at Stockholm. He spent most of his career in Heidelberg, becoming professor 1893. He used a small private observatory 1885–96, and then became the director of a new observatory at Königstuhl, near Heidelberg, built at his instigation.

Asteroids Wolf was the first to use time-lapse photography in astronomy, a technique he used for detecting asteroids. In 1903 he discovered the first of the so-called Trojan satellites (number 588, later named Achilles), whose orbits are in precise synchrony with that of Jupiter's; they form a gravitationally stable configuration between Jupiter and the Sun. This kind of triangular three-bodied system had been analysed and predicted theoretically by Joseph Lagrange in the 1770s.

Nebulae and comets Independently of US astronomer Edward Barnard, Wolf discovered that the dark ‘voids’ in the Milky Way are in fact nebulae that are obscured by vast quantities of dust, and he studied their spectral characteristics and distribution. He was the first to observe Halley's Comet when it approached the Earth 1909. He also photographed the Milky Way, discovered many nebulae (including a cluster of 108 faint nebulae in the constellation of Coma Berenices, and another group in Virgo), and observed variable stars and a temporary star that appeared in Aquila 1927.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.