Joseph Johann von Littrow

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Joseph Johann von Littrow (13 March 1781, Horšovský Týn (German: Bischofteinitz) – 30 November 1840, Vienna) was an Austrian astronomer. In 1837, he was ennobled with the title Joseph Johann Edler von Littrow. He was the father of Karl Ludwig Edler von Littrow and the mentor of the mathematician Nikolai Brashman.[1] His work took him to Russia for a time, which is where his son who succeeded him was born.

Joseph von Littrow
Joseph Johann von Littrow.jpg
Portrait of Joseph Johann von Littrow (1781–1840) from his 1836 book Physische Astronomie (Physical Astronomy).
Born(1781-03-13)13 March 1781
Died30 November 1840(1840-11-30) (aged 59)
Alma materCharles University
Known forLittrow projection
Scientific career
InstitutionsKrakau University
Kazan University
Vienna Observatory
Buda Observatory
University of Vienna
Doctoral studentsNikolai Brashman
Ivan Simonov
Note that he was the father of Karl Ludwig von Littrow and Heinrich von Littrow. He was the father-in-law of Auguste von Littrow.

He became director of the Vienna Observatory in 1819. He served in this position until his death in 1840. He created the only conformal retroazimuthal map projection, which is known as the Littrow projection.

Von Littrow is known for inventions in optics, including the Littrow prism, as well as the Littrow mount or Littrow configuration, which is a common way of orienting a blazed diffraction grating in a spectrometer or monochromator for high-throughput performance.[2]

Von Littrow is often associated with a proposal to dig a large circular canal in the Sahara desert and fill it with burning kerosene, thus communicating the fact of human intelligence to aliens who may be observing earth.[2] However, Von Littrow's connection with this scheme may be apocryphal.[2][3]

The crater Littrow on the Moon is named in his honor.

He is the great-great-great-grandfather of Roman Catholic Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.


  • 1799 Entered Charles University
  • 1802 Graduated in jurisprudence and theology
  • 1803 Became the private tutor of count J. Renard in Silesia
  • 1807 Appointed professor of astronomy Krakau University
  • 1810 Established the observatory at Kazan University
  • 1816 Became co-director of the observatory at Ofen (Buda)
  • 1819 Appointed professor of astronomy at the University of Vienna and became director of the first university observatory Vienna, which he reorganized completely


  1. ^ Joseph Johann von Littrow at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ a b c Zappe, Hans (2010). Fundamentals of Micro-Optics. Cambridge University Press. p. 298. ISBN 978-0-521-89542-2.
  3. ^ The Internet Encyclopedia of Science

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