More than two dozen Soviet astronomers were arrested between March 1936 and July 1937. Few astronomers or historians are aware of the extent to which Soviet astronomy was devastated. This article investigates the situation in astronomy during these two years. It begins with a brief discussion of Soviet astronomy between 1917 and 1935 and continues with a detailed examination of the events that served as the catalyst for the purge, the arrests themselves, and a discussion of what is known about the fates of the victims.
In the mid-1930s the Soviet Union had approximately two hundred professional astronomers and sixteen astronomical observatories, most of which were associated with universities and had staffs of only two or three people. The most important and best equipped astronomical institution was the Central Astronomical Observatory of the USSR at Pulkovo, just outside Leningrad, with its branch observatories at Nikolaev and Simeis in the Ukraine. In 1935 thirty-three astronomers worked at Pulkovo.