Maximilian Wolf: Photographer of the Heavens

Maximilian Wolf (6/21/1863-10/3/1932) was a German astronomer who pioneered the field of astrophotography. He is also notable for his study of so-called dark nebulae. They were originally thought to be some sort of holes in the sky, though Wolf’s research allowed astronomers to get a better grasp on such an abstract concept. Along with John Brashear, Wolf designed the Bruce double astrograph refractor telescope that was installed at the Landessternwarte Heidelberg-K√∂nigstuhl. While previous observations by astronomers had only ever been made by direct methods, Wolf was able to use cameras to plot numerous new objects in the heavens. He took time exposure images of the night sky, and later demonstrated that asteroids could be traced by the presence of short lines in his photographs. Stars were simple points of light.

The red dwarf star named Wolf 359 is in relative proximity to the solar system, and this has made it popular with authors of science fiction. In fact, many people have probably learned about Max Wolf’s work through fiction rather than through fact. On one hand, this has opened generations of minds to the incredible work that he preformed. Unfortunately, it has also caused many people to forget about his work as the Chairman of Astronomy at the University of Heidelberg.

Image Credit: Archiv fur Kunst und Geschichte, Berlin