Christiaan Huygens: biography of this 17th century Dutch astronomer.
A summary of the life of Christiaan Huygens, one of the great figures of science.
Modern astronomy would not be understood without the contributions of the great authors of the past, and Huygens is one of them.
We will dedicate this article to learn more about his life by means of a biography of Christiaan Huygensfrom his childhood and training to the great milestones of his career as a scientist. Likewise, we will discover some of the contributions that this author made during his many years as a scientist.
Brief biography of Christiaan Huygens
Christiaan Huygens was born in 1629 in The Hague, at that time part of the Dutch Republic.. As the son of a wealthy family, he had no financial difficulties during his childhood. His father was an important diplomat, under the orders of the Dutch monarchy. In addition, he also cultivated different arts, such as writing and music. He was associated with some of the greatest intellectuals of the time.
Among his close circle were historical figures of the stature of René Descartes, Galileo Galilei or Marin Mersenne, a sample of the distinguished and erudite atmosphere that reigned in the house of Christiaan Huygens. As for his mother, a famous poetess, she had five children, Christiaan being the second of them, and died as a result of complications during the delivery of her last daughter.
The education of little Christiaan Huygens, until he was sixteen years old, took place at home. Constantinj, his father, ensured that he received an exquisite liberal education, which included the learning of different subjects, including the study of different languages.which included the learning of different languages, mathematics, history, arts, and some branches of philosophy, such as logic and rhetoric. Likewise, his physical aptitudes were not neglected, so he also rode horses, practiced fencing and dance.
Some of Christiaan Huygens' tutors were Descartes himself, who was surprised by the ease with which the student understood the complex concepts of geometry, and also Jan Jansz de Jonge Stampioen, one of the most brilliant Dutch mathematicians.
From the age of sixteen, his education continued at the University of Leiden, where he learned mathematics and law.. The mathematician Frans van Schooten was one of the tutors of Christiaan Huygens. At the age of two he moved to Orange College in Breda to complete his law studies.
Youth and career as a scientist
After completing his training, he undertook diplomatic work for the Duke of Nassau, Louis Henry, which allowed him to travel in different northern European regions. However, he was not destined to follow in his father's footsteps as a diplomat. Christian's real passion was science.. This was attested to by Mersenne, who told his father that the boy had the talent of Archimedes himself for mathematics.
Christiaan Huygens corresponded with Mersenne to work together on different mathematical problems, such as those concerning the creation of suspension bridges or the squaring of the circle. Mersenne had proposed to him other objects of study that, at the time, were not of interest to Huygens, but would become so in the future. Some examples are the vibrating string, the cycloid or the gravitational constant.
By 1654, Christiaan decided to return to the family home, in The Hague, in order to devote himself completely to the study of science.. Although Mersenne had already died, Christiaan Huygens continued to correspond with other authors related to him, although the wars suffered by this territory at that time sometimes made it difficult to receive the letters.
In 1655 he decided to travel to Paris to meet with some of these authors, such as Ismael Boulliau or Claude Mylon. This allowed him to establish contact, first with Pierre de Carcavi and then with Pierre de Fermat, one of the most brilliant mathematicians in history. However, they did not reach great meeting points, since Fermat was focused on theoretical issues and Huygens was looking for more practical applications in his studies.
Finally, in 1651, Christiaan Huygens published what would be his first work, Theoremata de quadratura. Thanks to this publication and the correction of some errors in the work of Thomas Hobbes, Huygens began to be a well-known name in all scientific circles in Europe.
Interest in astronomy and other sciences
Christiaan then became interested in the optics of spherical lenses, and this study eventually materialized in the so-called Huygenian eyepiece. This subject brought him into contact with another of the great minds of his time: Baruch Spinoza. He was also very interested in the contributions to this field of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, another Dutch scientist who also studied and created lenses.
Another subject that attracted the interest of Christiaan Huygens was probability.. His work De ratiociniis in ludo aleae focuses on the probabilistic explanations behind the most popular games of chance. In creating this volume, he was influenced by the work of other authors such as Girard Desargues and Blaise Pascal. He also worked on the work of John Graunt, the father of demography, to mathematically express life expectancy.
In 1661, the astronomical phenomenon of the solar transit of Mercury took place. Christiaan Huygens witnessed this event and discussed it with other authors. Also at that time, Huygens published some articles related to music, a discipline in which he also excelled, especially as a harpsichord player..
The circle of authors formerly directed by Mesenne, was renamed the Montmor Academy, because it was directed by Henri Louis Habert de Montmor. Christiaan Huygens was one of its most active members, and supported a schism created in this association in which experimental demonstration was sought in the sciences they practiced. This discussion led to the closure of the group.
However, his participation in the circle made him change his residence to Paris, which earned him access to the French Academy of Sciences, his participation in the circle made him change his residence to Paris, which earned him access to the French Academy of Sciences.. He had the patronage of Jean-Baptiste Colbert. At the same time, he also belonged to the Royal Society of London, which shows the enormous importance that this author already had at an international level.
In his facet as an inventor, he studied the way to create an engine based on the explosion of gunpowder.Although it did not materialize as a reality, it was undoubtedly an enormous innovation for the time. Christiaan Huygens also excelled in the design and construction of complex clocks, especially pendulum clocks, which guaranteed great precision.
In the field of astronomy, one of his great contributions was the study of Saturn's rings as well as one of its moons, Titan. He was also able to make observations of the Orion nebula. As for Mars, he was able to map some of its regions, such as the plain of Syrtis Major, on the red planet.
Also He was also able to calculate the duration of the rotational motion of this planet, i.e., the duration of one rotation.He was also able to calculate the length of the planet's rotational motion, i.e., the length of a day, which he put at 24 hours and 30 minutes, erring only by the seven extra minutes it actually has. Ahead of his time, Christiaan Huygens even wrote about the possibility of the existence of life elsewhere in the universe, a controversial subject because of its impact on the religious beliefs prevailing in past times.
For Huygens, this possibility did not suppose a problem in the face of the scriptures of the Bible, since he affirmed that in this text this option was not affirmed but neither denied, and that if it were the case, God would have placed us at the sufficient distance so that we could not enter in contact with each other. Although he was scientifically minded, it can be seen that he tried to adapt his reasoning to the religious thesis.
Christiaan Huygens also studied different stars and even made calculations about the distance and luminosity of some of them, such as Sirius.He even made calculations about the distance and luminosity of some of them, such as Sirius, although they were not precise, since this discipline would still need many years to reach its maturity.
He is also considered to be the first of the theoretical physicists and also the main promoter of what would later become mathematical physics as we know it today.
During his years living in Paris, Christiaan Huygens met Gottfried Leibniz, with whom he also began corresponding and tutored him in mathematical and geometrical matters.with whom he also began corresponding and tutored him in mathematical and geometrical matters. Leibniz was working on a system of infinitesimal calculus, but Huygens did not seem to appreciate it.
In 1681, affected by a severe depression, he decided to return to his hometown, The Hague. Shortly afterwards he visited London, where he met Isaac Newton, one of the greatest physicists in the history of mankind.
Christiaan Huygens ended his days in The Hague, without having formed a family, in the year 1695. His body rests in an unmarked grave in the church of Saint James.
- Dijksterhuis, F.J. (2004). Lenses and waves: Christiaan Huygens and the mathematical science of optics in the seventeenth century. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
- Louwman, P. (2004). Christiaan Huygens and his telescopes. Titan-From Discovery to Encounter.
- Snelders, H.A.M. (1989). Christiaan Huygens and Newton's theory of gravitation. Notes and Records. The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science.
- Yoder, J.G. (2004). Unrolling time: Christiaan Huygens and the mathematization of nature. Cambridge.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)