Christiaan Huygens: biography of this 17th century Dutch astronomer

Modern astronomy would not be understood without the contributions of great authors of the past, and Huygens is one of them.

We will dedicate this article to get to know your life better through a biography of Christiaan Huygens, From his childhood and his training to the major stages of his scientific career. We’ll also learn about some of the contributions this author made during his many years as a scientist.

    Brief biography of Christiaan Huygens

    Christiaan Huygens was born in 1629 in The Hague, then part of the Dutch Republic.. As the son of a wealthy family, he did not experience any financial hardship throughout 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 entourage were historical figures such as René Descartes, Galileo Galilei and Marin Mersenne, a sample of the distinguished and learned atmosphere that reigned in the house of Christiaan Huygens. As for his mother, a famous poet, he had five children, Christiaan being the second of them, and died of complications during the birth of his last daughter.

    The education of little Christiaan Huygens, until she was sixteen, took place at her home. Constantinj, his father, was in charge of whom he received an exquisite training, liberal cutThis included learning different languages, mathematics, history, the arts and certain branches of philosophy, such as logic and rhetoric. Likewise, physical fitness was not neglected, so he rode a horse, practiced fencing and also danced.

    Some of Christiaan Huygens’ tutors were Descartes himself, who was amazed at how easily the student understood complex concepts of geometry, as well as Jan Jansz de Jonge Stampioen, one of the most brilliant Dutch mathematicians.

    From the age of sixteen, his training continued at the University of Leiden, where he learned mathematics and law.. Mathematician Frans van Schooten was one of Christiaan Huygens’ tutors. At the age of two, he moved to Orange College in Breda to complete his law studies.

    Youth and career as a scientist

    Upon completion of his training, he performed diplomatic duties for the Duke of Nassau, Louis Henry, which enabled him to travel to different parts of northern Europe. However, he was not destined to continue in his father’s footsteps as a diplomat. What Christian really liked was science. This was testified by Mersenne, who told his father that the boy had Archimedes’ own talent for mathematics.

    Christiaan Huygens corresponded like Mersenne to work together on different mathematical problems, such as those relating to the creation of suspension bridges or the squaring of the circle. Mersenne had offered him other objects of study which, at the time, were not in Huygens’ interest, but yes they would be in the future. Some examples are the vibrating wire, the cycloid or the gravitational constant.

    In 1654, Christiaan had decided to return to his family home in The Hague to devote himself entirely to the study of science.. Although Mersenne is already dead, Christiaan Huygens continues to correspond with other authors related to him, although the wars suffered by this territory at this time sometimes make it difficult to receive letters.

    In 1655, he decided to go to Paris to meet some of these authors, such as Ismael Boulliau and Claude Mylon. This allowed him to come into 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, as Fermat focused on theoretical questions and Huygens sought more practical applications in his studies.

    To finish, in 1651, Christiaan Huygens publishes what will 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 household 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 finally materialized in the so-called Huygén eyepiece. This theme puts him in contact with another of the great minds of his time: Baruch Spinoza. He also had a keen interest in the contributions to this field of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, another Dutch scientist who also studied and created lenses.

    Another topic that sparked the interest of Christiaan Huygens was that of probability. His work De ratiociniis in ludo aleae focuses on the probabilistic explanations behind the most popular games of chance. To create 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 shape life expectancy.

    In 1661, the astronomical phenomenon of the solar transit of Mercury took place. Christiaan Huygens witnessed this event and debated with other authors about it. Also at this time, Huygens he even publishes articles related to music, a discipline in which he also excels, notably by playing the harpsichord..

    The circle of authors formerly led by Mesenne, was renamed Académie Montmor, to be led 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 an 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 in Paris, which earned him access to the French Academy of Sciences. It had the patronage of Jean-Baptiste Colbert. At the same time, he also belonged to the Royal Society of London, which demonstrates the enormous importance that this author already had on an international level.

      great contributions

      In his role as inventor, he studied how to create an engine based on the explosion of gunpowder., Which, while it didn’t materialize as a reality, was certainly a huge innovation for the time. Christiaan Huygens also excelled in the design and construction of complex clocks, especially pendulum clocks, which guaranteed high precision.

      As for the field of astronomy, one of his major contributions has been the study of Saturn’s rings as well as one of its moons, Titan. He was also able to make observations on the Orion nebula. As for Mars, it was able to map some of its regions, such as the Syrtis Major plain, on the red planet.

      too much was able to calculate the duration of the rotational movement of this planetThat is, which lasts a day, which encrypted it in 24 hours and 30 minutes, wandering only for the seven more minutes it actually has. As ahead of his time, Christiaan Huygens even wrote about the possibility of the existence of life elsewhere in the universe, a controversial topic due to its impact on dominant religious beliefs in the past.

      For Huygens, this possibility did not pose a problem in the face of the scriptures of the Bible, because he affirmed that in this text was not affirmed but also denied this option, and that if it was the case, God would have put us at a distance. enough that we can’t come into contact with each other. Although he has a scientific mentality, we see that he tried to adapt his reasoning to religious theses.

      Christiaan Huygens too studied different stars and even made calculations on the distance and luminosity of some of them, Like the Syrians, although they are not precise, because this discipline would still need several years to arrive at maturity.

      He is also considered the first of the theoretical physicists and also the main driver of what will later become mathematical physics as we know it today.

      last years

      During her years in Paris, Christiaan Huygens met Gottfried Leibniz, With which also it will begin to maintain the correspondence and tutored to the mathematical and geometrical questions. Leibniz was working on an infinitesimal calculus system, but Huygens didn’t seem to like it.

      In 1681, suffering from a serious depression, he decided to return to his hometown, The Hague. He visited London soon after, where he met Isaac Newton, one of the greatest physicists in human history.

      Christiaan Huygens ended her days in The Hague, without having formed a family, in 1695. Her body rests in an unnamed tomb in the Saint-Jacques church.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Dijksterhuis, FJ (2004). Lenses and waves: Christiaan Huygens and the mathematical science of optics in the 17th century. Kluwer University Publishers.
      • Louwman, P. (2004). Christiaan Huygens and his telescopes. Titan: from discovery to encounter.
      • Snelders, HAM (1989). Christiaan Huygens and Newton’s theory of gravity. Notes and recordings. The Royal Society’s Journal of the History of Science.
      • Yoder, JG (2004). Development time: Christiaan Huygens and the mathematization of nature. Cambridge.

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