Konstantin Pokrovski (11 May 1868 Nizhny-Novgorod – July 1945 Odessa) Director in 1908−1915

In 1887-91 Pokrovski studied at the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Moscow University. After graduation he was appointed part-time astronomer of the Observatory of Moscow University, and he also was heading O. Schwabe’s private observatory. At the Observatory of Moscow University Pokrovski was active in the time service, observed the star occultations by the Moon, the eclipse of the satellites of the Jupiter and meteors. Working at the private observatory, he learnt the population’s interests in astronomy which later initiated his activities in popularizing astronomy. Pokrovski’s manuscript “The Sky Guide” was published several times (1894, 1897, 1923). The author of the book received a prize.

In 1893 he was sent to Pulkovo to improve his knowledge in observatory. In 1895 Pokrovski came to Tartu to occupy the post of the astronomer-observer. From 1891 he delivered lectures of astronomy and mathematics at the university. In 1902 he defended his Master’s thesis “The Origin of Comets”. In 1907 Pokrovski was elected the professor of astronomy at Tartu University and became the head of the observatory in September 1908. Pokrovski was the director of the Tartu Observatory until 1917 but in reality he was evacuated to Perm together with a part of instruments of the observatory in 1915.

In Tartu Pokrovski was mainly observing comets, meteors and noctilucent clouds. He was the first to photograph noctilucent clouds on 25 June 1896 from the balcony of the Tartu Observatory. For observing and measuring noctilucent clouds Pokrovski compiled a special instruction. Pokrovski’s scientific activities were mainly connected with the study of physical processes taking place in comets and in their tails. Pokrovski also supervised the simultaneous observations of meteors in Tartu and Elva. Together with other astronomers of Tartu he participated in the expeditions to observe the solar eclipse: at the station of Keeni (17 April 1912) where the circular eclipse was observed and in Feodosia (22 August 1914) where the full solar eclipse was watched.

Pokrovski’s popular science lectures attracted such big audiences, that lectures had to be held in the university assembly hall. Not only in Tartu but also in Jelgava, Riga, Saratov, St. Petersburg and Moscow Pokrovski’s lectures attracted great attention. In popular magazines (Astronomishe Nachrichten, Obrazovanije, Priroda) about ten Pokrovski’s articles were published each year.

Pokrovski travelled in Europe: in 1898 he acquainted himself with the methods of meridian observation (Berlin, Strasbourg, Paris, and Leiden) and in 1904 with the study of the movement of comets (Berlin). In 1910 he visited astronomical observatories in Kiel and Bergedorf and workshops of Repsold, Zeiss and Heyde.

At the end of 1908 new buildings for the university were designed, among them the new observatory. The design made in 1909-1910 (author K. Pokrovski and architect J. Mayer) had a major drawback – the new observatory was planned to be built on the old place, in the centre of the growing town. The beginning of the World War 1 put an end to these plans. In 1909, to the east of the Observatory, a granite column with a wooden cover moving on rails was built for the observation with smaller instruments. In the pavilion of the zenith telescope hatches were widened and the floor was raised. In 1911 the observatory received the 8-inch Zeiss refractor together with the 6-inch Petzval objective astrocamera. At the beginning of 1912 the new instrument was put into the tower and the Fraunhofer refractor to the eastern hall. The observatory received also some smaller instruments and apparatuses, mainly for photographing the sky and observing solar eclipses. Also, the university mechanic B. Messer and E. Schoenberg made an optical microphotometer.

As a member of the evacuation commission, Pokrovski went to Nizhny-Novgorod (Gorki) in September 1915 and further to Perm to receive the equipment coming from Tartu. In Perm Pokrovski took over the responsibilities of the Rector of the Perm branch of St. Petersburg University. In April 1916 he received the Doctoral degree in astronomy. In 1919 Pokrovski went to Tomsk to the post of the head of the Chair of Astronomy. In 1923 he began to work as a senior astronomer of the Pulkovo Observatory, later as a vice-director. In November 1922 Pokrovski came to Tartu to collect the materials of the work done here. In 1927 Pokrovski was elected the Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Since 1934 Pokrovski had been working as the director of the Odessa Observatory. Pokrovski was able to preserve the observatory intact during World War 2 and this is why he was accused of collaborating with occupants and he died during the pre-trial interrogations in the Odessa prison in July 1945.