Encke, Johann Franz
ENCKE, JOHANN FRANZ (1791-1865), German astronomer, was born at Hamburg on the 23rd of September 1791. Matriculating at the university of Göttingen in 1811, he began by devoting himself to astronomy under Carl Friedrich Gauss; but he enlisted in the Hanseatic Legion for the campaign of 1813-14, and became lieutenant of artillery in the Prussian service in 1815. Having returned to Göttingen in 1816, he was at once appointed by Benhardt von Lindenau his assistant in the observatory of Seeberg near Gotha. There he completed his investigation of the comet of 1680, for which the Cotta prize was awarded to him in 1817; he correctly assigned a period of 71 years to the comet of 1812; and discovered the swift circulation of the remarkable comet which bears his name (see Comet). Eight masterly treatises on its movements were published by him in the Berlin Abhandlungen (1829-1859). From a fresh discussion of the transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769 he deduced (1822-1824) a solar parallax of 8".57, long accepted as authoritative. In 1822 he became director of the Seeberg observatory, and in 1825 was promoted to a corresponding position at Berlin, where a new observatory, built under his superintendence, was inaugurated in 1835. He directed the preparation of the star-maps of the Berlin academy 1830-1859, edited from 1830 and greatly improved the Astronomisches Jahrbuch, and issued four volumes of the Astronomische Beobachtungen of the Berlin observatory (1840-1857). Much labour was bestowed by him upon facilitating the computation of the movements of the asteroids. With this end in view he expounded to the Berlin academy in 1849 a mode of determining an elliptic orbit from three observations, and communicated to that body in 1851 a new method of calculating planetary perturbations by means of rectangular co-ordinates (republished in W. Ostwald's Klassiker der exacten Wissenschaften, No. 141, 1903). Encke visited England in 1840. Incipient brain-disease compelled him to withdraw from official life in November 1863, and he died at Spandau on the 26th of August 1865. He contributed extensively to the periodical literature of astronomy, and was twice, in 1823 and 1830, the recipient of the Royal Astronomical Society's gold medal.
See Johann Franz Encke, sein Leben und Wirken, von Dr C. Bruhns (Leipzig, 1869), to which a list of his writings is appended. Also, Month. Notices Roy. Astr. Society, xxvi. 129; V.J.S. Astr. Gesellschaft, iv. 227; Berlin. Abhandlungen (1866), i., G. Hagen; Sitzungsberichte, Munich Acad. (1866), i. p. 395, etc.
(A. M. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)