Dubiago, Aleksandr Dmitrievich
Born Kazan, Russia, 18 December 1903
Died Kazan, Russia, 29 October 1959
Aleksandr Dmitrievich Dubiago was a professor, observer, and theoretical astronomer specializing in the motion, structure, and decay of comets.
At the time of Aleksandr’s birth, his father, Dmitrii Dubiago , was rector of the University of Kazan and director not only of the Kazan (municipal) observatory but also of the nearby V. P. Engelhardt Astronomical Observatory, which the university had founded in 1901 and named for the donor of its first instruments.
The elder Dubiago evidently stimulated his son’s interest in astronomy. Aleksandr is reputed to have independently spotted Nova Aquilae when he was just 14. Though the “new star” was very bright, he must already have had a knowledge of the constellations and a curiosity about the stars. Unfortunately, their relationship was cut short by the father’s death a few months later. Aleksandr made his first appearance on the world astronomical scene at age 17 when, as an assistant at the Kazan Observatory, he discovered a comet on 24 April 1921. A second discovery followed on 14 October 1923, though he shared the credit with Arturo Bernard of Madrid who had reported the comet 3 days earlier. So it happened that Aleksandr received two Donohoe medals from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific by the age of 20. (He actually received three, but the first one was mistakenly inscribed with his father’s name.) While he was still a student at the University of Kazan, he published his first paper (with A. Lexin) on the return of periodic comet 6P/d’Arrest in 1923.
After graduating in 1925, he worked as an assistant in the astronomy department for 9 years and was appointed head of USSR gravimetric expeditions in 1931, a post he held for 10 years, while writing a number of works in geodesy. Dubiago began his graduate work in physical and mathematical sciences in 1938 and earned his doctorate in 1941. He then headed the Department of Geodesy and Gravimetry from 1941 to 1946 and served as professor of astronomy from 1941 to 1959 at the University of Kazan. He directed the Engelhardt Observatory from 1954 until his death 5 years later.
Many of Dubiago’s observations and calculations of the orbits of minor planets, comets, and eclipsing variable stars are found in the Astronomische Nachrichtenbetween 1923 and 1946; four of the observational papers were coauthored with his colleague, D.J. Martinoff. However, there were none published between 1932 and 1936. It was likely during this period that Dubiago was imprisoned for 11 months. Certainly, during the 1930s, the intelligentsia was out of favor with the Stalin regime, and 27 astronomers disappeared during 1936–1938. Dubiago likely published other papers at this time, perhaps in the Bulletin of the Engelhardt Observatory, which began in 1932. According to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, “He investigated the motion of comets... and the problem of the structure and disintegration of comets, the nuclei of which he considered to consist of a multitude of minute particles that become denser toward the center.” He wrote two papers linking two or more apparitions of Comet 16P/Brooks. His first, in 1924, showed that the comet passed within two radii of Jupiter’s surface in July 1886, but he was unsuccessful in carrying forward the motion of the comet to the 1925 apparition. His second paper, in which he calculated the perturbations since 1925, accurately predicted the comet’s position in 1959. As Donald K. Yeomans has pointed out, Dubiago wrote a significant paper in 1948, entitled “On the Secular Acceleration of Motions of the Periodic Comets,” in which he anticipated Fred Whipple ’s more complete theory on the effect that expulsion of material from the nucleus has on a comet’s orbital motion.
Dubiago also wrote an article and commentary in 1954 for a collection of classic essays on meteors by Fyodor Bredikhin , along with a 1948 book on the determination of orbits of lesser bodies in the Solar System. The latter monograph became his best-known work, at least in the West, because of its 1961 English translation, The Determination of Orbits. A brief unsigned review, in the Astronomical Journal(1962), noted that the book dealt with the derivation of orbits, improvement of orbits, special perturbations, and calculation of meteor orbits. The reviewer felt that students would find the book useful and noted that the chapter devoted to the history of the subject was more complete than usual and included Russian works that might be new to western readers. However, the book was faulted for its omission of Pierre-Simon de Laplace ’s method and its arrangement of numerical examples based upon logarithmic calculations. This latter shortcoming was less a problem when Dubiago originally wrote the book.
Aleksandr Dubiago became a member of the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics (part of the USSR Academy of Sciences) in 1943 and in 1948 was elected a member of the International Astronomical Union’s [IAU] Commission for Minor Planets, Comets, and Satellites. The IAU has perpetuated his name in asteroid (1167) Dubiago and in a lunar crater 51 km diameter, along with several associated features, that honor both himself and his father.
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