BornDobrzin, Poland, 15/27 August 1821
DiedKazan, Russia, 28 May/9 June 1884
Marian Kovalsky developed new methods in celestial mechanics, composed a zone catalog of northern stars, and studied the motions of stars in the Milky Way. Born into the Polish family of Albert Kovalsky, he matriculated at Saint Petersburg University in 1841 and studied astronomy under Friedrich Struve and Aleksei Nikolaevich Savich. Graduating in 1845, Kovalsky spent a year at the Pulkovo Observatory before earning his master’s degree (1847) on the motions of comets. Over the next 2 years, he participated in geodetic expeditions conducted by the Russian Geographical Society. In 1849, Kovalsky was made an assistant, and in 1850, a lecturer on astronomy at Kazan University. His doctoral dissertation was awarded in 1852 for his theory of the orbit of Neptune. In that year, Kovalsky was appointed a full professor and in 1855 became director of the university’s observatory. He married Henriette Serafimovna Gatsisskaya in 1856; the couple had one son.
Kovalsky’s subsequent research elaborated upon the mathematical theory of solar eclipses; he also proposed a simplified method to calculate occultations of stars by the Moon. At the Kazan Observatory, he measured the positions and prepared the zone catalog (published in 1887 for the Astronomische Gesellschaft) of more than 4,200 stars whose declinations lay between 75° and 80°. Kovalsky’s most important work, however, concerned his analysis (1860) of the proper motions of stars. Independently of Astronomer Royal George Airy , Kovalsky employed data from the star catalog of James Bradley to derive improved estimates of the Sun’s own motion through space and identified a significant deviation in stellar motions that was not explained for several decades. His work refuted one theory of a “central sun” proposed in 1846 by astronomer Johann von Mädler and instead supported contemporary notions of our Galaxy’s solid-body rotation.
Kovalsky was appointed a corresponding member of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1863), a member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1863), and a founding member of the Astronomische Gesellschaft (1864).