Comet Encke: When and How to See It in 2023

~4 min

In October 2023, comet 2P/Encke will make its closest approach to the Sun and reach maximum brightness. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about this comet.


Comet Encke 2023

Periodic comet 2P/Encke will pass perihelion on October 22, 2023. At that moment, it will be at a distance of 0.34 AU from the Sun and might brighten to magnitude 6.6. However, as the comet will be positioned close to the Sun, it will only be visible in the morning sky. Observers in the Northern Hemisphere can try to spot Comet Encke with binoculars just before sunrise; it will be located in the constellation Virgo. Remember to be extremely careful when aiming your binoculars or telescope at objects close to the Sun — it might result in severe eye damage!

You can start observing comet 2P/Encke right now — it will not be as bright as during the perihelion but will be positioned further from the Sun, giving you a much better chance of spotting it. Throughout October, the comet will be visible above the eastern horizon and will gradually transition from the constellation Leo to Virgo.

Here is the path of Comet Encke for October 2023:

  • October 2: Comet Encke (mag 8.7, elongation 36.9°) passes 3°20' away from the star Algieba (mag 2.2) and 7°18' away from the star Regulus (mag 1.3) in the constellation Leo.
  • October 7: Comet Encke (mag 8.1, elongation 30.7°) passes 4°7' away from the star Chertan (mag 3.3) in the constellation Leo.
  • October 10: Comet Encke (mag 7.7, elongation 27.0°) passes 8°2' away from the star Denebola (mag 2.1) in the constellation Leo.
  • October 11: Comet Encke (mag 7.5, elongation 25.8) enters the constellation Virgo.
  • October 19: Comet Encke (mag 6.6, elongation 15.9°) passes 2° away from the star Porrima (mag 3.4) in the constellation Virgo.
  • October 22: Comet Encke (mag 6.6, elongation 12.2°) reaches perihelion in the constellation Virgo.
  • October 25: Comet Encke (mag 6.8, elongation 8.6°) passes 0°47' away from the star Spica (mag 0.9) in the constellation Virgo.

How to find Comet Encke in the sky?

Comet Encke in Sky Tonight
Find Comet Encke with Sky Tonight.

The easiest way to find Comet Encke is to use the astronomy app Sky Tonight. Here’s how to do it:

  • Tap the magnifying glass icon on the main screen.
  • Type “Encke” in the search field and tap the blue target icon next to the comet’s name in the search results. The app will show you where the comet is right now on the sky map.
  • Tap the blue compass icon or point your device at the sky. Now, follow the arrow to find the comet in the sky above you.

Pro tip: tap and hold Comet Encke on the sky map and then move your finger along its trajectory to see how the comet changes its position over time. This can help you find the best time for observations for your location.

Facts about Comet Encke

Who discovered Сomet Encke?

Although Сomet Encke is named after German astronomer Johann Franz Encke, he was not the first to see it. It was first observed independently by two French astronomers Pierre Méchain and Charles Messier in 1786. Then, it was seen by British astronomer Caroline Herschel in 1795 and by another French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons in 1818. However, all these astronomers didn’t realize they saw one and the same comet. Johann Franz Encke calculated the comet’s orbit and proved that previous observations were of the same object. In 1819, he published his conclusions in an astronomical journal and correctly predicted that the comet would return in 1822.

Comet Encke’s orbital period

Comet 2P/Encke belongs to a category of periodic comets (it is designated by the letter “P” in the comet’s name). Such comets have orbital periods of less than 200 years. Comet Encke has the shortest orbital period among all known bright comets within the Solar System — it takes only 3.3 years to orbit the Sun once.

When was Comet Encke last seen?

Comet Encke has been observed by astronomers at every perihelion since 1818 except 1944, when wartime conditions hampered observations. The comet's last perihelion occurred on June 25, 2020. The next one will occur on October 22, 2023.

When will Comet Encke return?

As we’ve already mentioned, comet 2P/Encke returns to the inner Solar System about every 3 years. After the perihelion on October 22, 2023, the comet will get closest to the Sun next time on February 10, 2027.

Did you know?

  • As is evident from its designation, comet 2P/Encke was the second periodic comet ever discovered. The first was the famous Halley's Comet (designated 1P/Halley).
  • Comet Encke is believed to be the parent body of the Taurid meteor showers (the Northern and Southern Taurids in November and the Beta Taurids in June and July).
  • Compared to many other comets, Comet Encke has quite a short tail. After countless encounters with the Sun, the comet has probably lost most of its ice needed to form a long tail.
  • According to one hypothesis, the celestial body that caused the Tunguska accident in 1908 could be a fragment of Comet Encke.
  • One theory states that the ancient symbol of the swastika, which was used by cultures all over the world, could have been inspired by the breakup of Comet Encke’s “progenitor”.

Bottom line

Comet Encke will reach maximum brightness on October 22, 2023. It might become visible through binoculars just before sunrise. Use the Sky Tonight app to locate the comet and find the best time for its observation. You can also learn about other upcoming comets of 2023 from our dedicated article.