Johann Encke Biography – German astronomer often confused with another astronomer

The Johann Encke Biography tells us about the life of a German born astronomer who is often confused with Karl Ludwig Henke another German astronomer. (note: Henke is credited with discovering two more asteroids after others had given up and thought there were only four. The asteroid 2005 Henke was named for him).

Life and Astronomy Contributions

Johann Franz Encke was born September 23, 1791 in Hamburg, Germany. Not much is known about his early years, but in 1811 he went to the University of Gottingen and studied mathematics and astronomy under Carl Gauss. His schooling was short lived when he enlisted in the Hanseatic Legion in 1813. In 1816, Encke returned to Gottingen.

He was immediately appointed an assistant at the Seeberg Observatory. According to the Johann Encke Biography it was here that he completed his investigation of the comet of 1680. He then went on to give the comet of 1812, known as 12P/Pons-Brooks an orbit period of seventy-one years.

At the urgings of Jean-Louis Pons, Encke studied a comet of 1818. AT the time all comets were thought to have an orbit of seventy plus years. The comet of 1818 was one discovered by Pons in 1805. Johann Encke determined it had an orbit of 3.3 years. Encke sent a note with his calculations to Gauss, Olbers and Bessel. Encke went on to become director of the Seeberg Observatory in 1822.

According to the Johann Encke Biography the Encke met Amalie Becker, the daughter of a bookseller. They married in 1824 and had five children, three boys and two girls.

In 1825 Encke was given a similar position in Berlin where a new observatory was built under his guidance. He was made director of the Berlin Observatory in 1835. During the building of the observatory, Encke directed the making of the new star maps of the Berlin Academy. Johann Encke was also involved with the discovery and determining the short orbits of other comets and asteroids. It was here that John Encke described a variation in the rings of Saturn.

In 1844, Encke became a professor of astronomy in Berlin. The Johann Encke Biography goes on to tell of the enormous amount of work given to Encke to determine the movements of the asteroids. Johann Franz Encke remained the director of the Berlin Observatory until his death on August 26, 1865 in Spandau, Berlin, Germany/


  • Cotta Prize - 1817
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society – 1824
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society – 1830
  • Encke crater – Moon
  • 9134 Encke – asteroid
  • Encke comet
  • Encke Division – variation in the rings of Saturn

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