On January 17, 1786, French astronomer Pierre Mechain discovered Comet Encke, but it wasn’t until 1819 when German astronomer Johann Franz Encke calculated its trajectory that the object became officially recognized. Comet Encke orbits our Sun once every 3.3 years, the shortest period known for such a bright comet within the Solar System.

The comet’s nucleus stretches 4.8 kilometers (2.98 miles) in diameter, about a 3rd of the size of the object that caused the Chicxulub crater which many believe triggered the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, wiping out the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago.

The comet’s nucleus stretches 4.8 kilometers (2.98 miles) in diameter, about a 3rd of the size object that caused the Chicxulub crater which many believe triggered the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event, wiping out the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago.

Comet Enke’s significance involves its relationship with the Taurid meteor stream, where it’s sometimes referred to as the parent comet. Stargazers peering up during the months of October and November can observe the Taurid meteors as they light up the Cosmos with their fireball-like trajectories tracing across the sky in the early morning and late evening. Occasionally the meteor showers caused by the Taurids occur during Halloween, earning them the name of ‘Halloween Fireballs.’

Since its discovery, Comet Encke has traversed our region of space 63 times, the last time achieving its perihelion (closest point to the Sun) on March 10, 2017. Its next perihelion will occur on June 25, 2020, so keep your eyes peeled.

Credit: www.skylive.com

A 2015 Image of a Taurid Fireball during a powerful meteor shower.

Credit: Bill Allen www.earthsky.org