Reference Work Entry

Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

pp 1238-1239


Kopff, August

  • Horst KantAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for the History of Science Email author 

BornHeidelberg, Germany, 5 February 1882

DiedHeidelberg, (Germany), 25 April 1960

Comet and Trojan asteroid discoverer August Kopff was the son of a master plumber in Heidelberg. From 1900 to 1905 he studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy at the University of Heidelberg, where he got his Ph.D. in 1906 with a paper on “Über die Nebel der Nova Persei.” Among his academic teachers were astronomer Maximilian Wolf , who founded the Königstuhl Observatory at the University of Heidelberg, mathematician Leo Königsberger (1837–1921), and physicist Georg Quincke (1834–1924). By 1901, Kopff began work with Wolf at the observatory. In 1907 Kopff became Privatdozent (lecturer), and in 1912 a professor at the University of Heidelberg. After military service during World War I, Kopff returned to teaching and observing at the University of Heidelberg. In 1924, Kopff became professor of theoretical astronomy at the University of Berlin and simultaneously – as a successor of Fritz Cohn (1866–1921) – director of the Institute for Astronomical Calculation (Astronomisches Recheninstitut in Berlin-Dahlem, Germany). (During World War II this institute was evacuated to Saxony, and found a new accommodation in 1945 in Heidelberg.) From 1947 up to his retirement in 1950 Kopff was professor of astronomy at the University of Heidelberg, and besides his directorship of the institute (until 1954) also director of the observatory.

In his time at Königstuhl, Kopff took part in all observation programs of the observatory and published studies on the theory of comets, stellar astronomy, and the theory of relativity. During his time in Berlin he and his co-workers published several catalogs of stars. One of the main projects was the third fundamental catalog of the FK-series (1935), which was adopted as the standard list of fundamental stars by the International Astronomical Union [IAU].

Kopff had memberships to the Academy of Sciences at Berlin (1935), the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (1936), and the American Astronomical Society (honorary, 1949), and was associate of the Royal Astronomical Society (London). He was also actively engaged in the organization of the Astronomische Gesellschaft, to whose council he belonged since 1930. A lunar crater is named for him.

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