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Johann Franz Encke: sein Leben und Wirken


FOUR years have passed since Encke died. Even those four years have witnessed notable changes in the aspect of the science he loved so well. But we must look back Over more than fifty years if we would form an estimate of the position of astronomy when Encke's most notable work was achieved. At Seeberge under Lindenau, Encke had been perfecting himself in the higher branches of mathematical Calculation. He took the difficult work of determining the orbital motions of newly discovered comets under his special charge, and Dr. Bruhns tells us that every Comet which was detected during Encke's stay at Seeberge was subjected to rigid scrutiny by the indefatigable mathematician. Before long a discovery of the utmost importance rewarded his persevering labours. Pons had detected on November 26, 1818, a comet of no very brilliant aspect, which was watched first at Marseilles, and then at Mannheim, until the 29th December. Encke next took up the work and tracked the comet until January 12. Combining the observations made between December 22, and January 12, he assigned to the body a parabolic orbit. But he was not satisfied with the accordance between this path and the observed motions of the body. When he attempted to account for the motions of the comet by means of an orbit of comparatively short period, he was struck by the resemblance between the path thus deduced and that of Comet I, 1805. Gradually the idea dawned upon him that a new era was opening for science. Hitherto the only periodical comets which had been discovered, had travelled in orbits extending far out into space beyond the paths of the most distant known planets. But now Encke saw reason to believe that he had to deal with a comet travelling within the orbit of Jupiter. On February 5, he wrote to the eminent mathematician, Gauss, pointing out the results of his inquiries, and saying that he only waited for the encouragement and authority of his former teacher, to prosecute his researches to the end towards which they already seemed to point. Gauss, in reply, not only encouraged Encke to proceed, but counselled him as to the course he should pursue. The result we all know. Encke showed conclusively that the newly discovered comet travels in a path of short period, and that it had already made its appearance several times in our neighbourhood.

Johann Franz Encke: sein Leben und Wirken.

Von. Dr. C. Bruhns. (Leipzig, 1869. London: Williams and Norgate.)

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PROCTOR, R. Johann Franz Encke: sein Leben und Wirken . Nature 1, 479–480 (1870).

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