In the middle of the 19th century, spectral analysis was developed by Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen. It provided the possibility of obtaining information on the physical parameters and chemical abundances of stars, by the spectral analysis of their light. Initiated by Wilhelm Förster and Hermann v. Helmholtz, the Astrophysical Observatory Potsdam (AOP) was founded on July 1, 1874.
In 1908, one of the most famous astrophysicists of this century, Karl Schwarzschild, became director of the AOP. In only a few years of work - by 1916 he had died after an illness - he had made fundamental contributions in astrophysics and to General Relativity theory (GR). Schwarzschild found the first solution of Einstein's equations before they were published in their final form. This solution, the 'Schwarzschild solution', describes the motion in a spherically symmetric field around the sun and also around black holes.
Karl Schwarzschild (October 9, 1873 - May 11, 1916) was born in Frankfurt/Main to Jewish parents. He studied at Strasbourg and Munich, obtaining his doctorate in 1896 for a work on Jules Henri Poincaré's theories. From 1897, he worked as assistant at the Kuffner observatory in Vienna. From 1901 until 1909 he was a professor at the prestigious institute at Göttingen, where he had the opportunity to work with some significant figures including David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski. Karl Schwarzschild became the director of the observatory in Göttingen. He moved to a post at the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam in 1909.
From 1912, Schwarzschild was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
Thousands of dissertations, articles, and books have since been devoted to the study of Schwarzschild's solutions to the Einstein field equations. However, although Schwarzschild's best known work lies in the area of general relativity, his research interests were extremely broad, including work in celestial mechanics, observational stellar photometry, quantum mechanics, instrumental astronomy, stellar structure, stellar statistics, Halley's Comet, and spectroscopy.
Some of his particular achievements include measurements of variable stars, using photography, and the improvement of optical systems, through the perturbative investigation of geometrical aberrations.
[Karl Schwarzschild Fellowship Programme]
Karl Schwarzschild: Gesammelte Werke
- Collected works; ed. by H.H. Voigt. Vol.1 Berlin [u.a.] Springer, 1992 (Universität Göttingen)