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Christiaan Huygens

1629~1695

Dutch astronomer, Christiaan Huygens, was born in The Hague on April 14, 1629. He was born into a wealthy and influential family; his father, Constantijn, was a poet, musician, diplomat, and advisor to the ruling House of Orange. Born into the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, Huygens received a well-rounded education in languages, music, history, geography, mathematics, logic and rhetoric, dancing, fencing, and horse riding. Blessed with a brilliant mind, Huygens became a polymath and, through his research, contributed greatly to the advancement of Physics, Optics, Horology, and Astronomy.

In Astronomy, Huygens put his knowledge of Optics and skill in lens-crafting to good use and constructed his own 50 power refracting telescope in 1655. Using this instrument, he made observations of Saturn from which he surmised that the planet’s rings were composed of solid material, the first astronomer to do so. That same year he discovered Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and also observed and sketched the Orion Nebula. His detailed drawing of it, eventually published in 1659, is the earliest picture we have of that object.

On May 3, 1661, while visiting London, Huygens observed the transit of Mercury across the Sun, along with English astronomer Thomas Streete and telescope-maker Richard Reeve. In 1662, he designed a telescope ocular with two lenses, now known as a Huygenian eyepiece. Years later, in the 1670s, Huygens continued his work at the Paris Observatory. While in France, Huygens met other intellectuals and savants, including fellow astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini. Huygens returned to The Hague in 1681, and in 1684 published his work Astroscopia Compendiaria about the tubeless aerial telescope that he had devised with his brother Constantijn’s help.

Huygens died in The Hague on July 8, 1695. The objects (among others) listed below, have been named after him:

  • Mons Huygens, a lunar mountain
  • Huygens Crater, Mars
  • 2801 Huygens, an asteroid
  • Space probe Huygens parachuted to Titan’s surface in 2005
Christiaan Huygens

Engraving by Gérard Edelinck

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