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Christiaan Huygens
Christiaan Huygens by Jaques Clerion.jpg
Christiaan Huygens, 1629-1695, relief by Jean-Jacques Clérion around 1670
Born (1629-04-14)14 April 1629
Died 8 July 1695(1695-07-08) (aged 66)
Nationality Dutch
Alma mater University of Leiden
University of Angers
Known for Titan
Explanation of Saturn's rings
Centrifugal force
Collision formulae
Pendulum clock
Huygens–Fresnel principle
Wave theory
Huygens' engine
Huygenian eyepiece
31 equal temperament musical tuning
Huygens–Steiner theorem
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Institutions Royal Society of London
French Academy of Sciences
Influences Galileo Galilei
René Descartes
Frans van Schooten
Influenced Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Isaac Newton

Christiaan Huygens, FRS (Latin: Hugenius) (14 April 1629 – 8 July 1695) was a prominent Dutch mathematician and scientist. He is known particularly as an astronomer, physicist, probabilist and horologist.

Huygens was a leading scientist of his time. His work included early telescopic studies of the rings of Saturn and the discovery of its moon Titan, the invention of the pendulum clock and other investigations in timekeeping. He published major studies of mechanics and optics (having been one of the most influential proponents of the wave theory of light), and pioneered work on games of chance.


Huygens' telescope without tube. Picture from his 1684 Astroscopia Compendiaria tubi optici molimine liberata (compound telescopes without a tube)

Saturn's rings and Titan

In 1655, Huygens proposed that Saturn was surrounded by a solid ring, "a thin, flat ring, nowhere touching, and inclined to the ecliptic." Using a 50 power refracting telescope that he designed himself, Huygens also discovered the first of Saturn's moons, Titan. In the same year he observed and sketched the Orion Nebula. His drawing, the first such known of the Orion nebula, was published in Systema Saturnium in 1659. Using his modern telescope he succeeded in subdividing the nebula into different stars. The brighter interior now bears the name of the Huygenian region in his honour. He also discovered several interstellar nebulae and some double stars.

Mars and Syrtis Major

In 1659, Huygens was the first to observe a surface feature on another planet, Syrtis Major, a volcanic plain on Mars. He used repeated observations of the movement of this feature over the course of a number of days to estimate the length of day on Mars, which he did quite accurately to 24 1/2 hours. This figure is only a few minutes off of the actual length of the Martian day of 24 hours, 37 minutes.

Later life

Huygens moved back to The Hague in 1681 after suffering serious depressive illness. In 1684, he published Astroscopia Compendiaria on his new tubeless aerial telescope. His father died in 1687, and he inherited Hofwijck, which he made his home the following year.

Hofwijck westkant
Hofwijck, home to Christiaan Huygens from 1688

On his third visit to England, in 1689, Huygens met Isaac Newton on 12 June. They spoke about Iceland spar, and subsequently corresponded about resisted motion.

Huygens observed the acoustical phenomenon now known as flanging in 1693.

He died in The Hague on 8 July 1695, and was buried in the Grote Kerk.

Huygens never married.

Named after Huygens


  • The Huygens probe: The lander for the Saturnian moon Titan, part of the Cassini–Huygens mission to Saturn
  • Asteroid 2801 Huygens
  • A crater on Mars
  • Mons Huygens, a mountain on the Moon
  • Huygens Software, a microscope image processing package.
  • A two element eyepiece designed by him. An early step in the development of the achromatic lens, since it corrects some chromatic aberration.
  • The Huygens–Fresnel principle, a simple model to understand disturbances in wave propagation.
  • Huygens wavelets, the fundamental mathematical basis for scalar diffraction theory


  • The Christiaan Huygens, a ship of the Nederland Line.
  • Huygens Scholarship Programme for international students and Dutch students
  • The Huygens-building in Noordwijk, Netherlands, first building on the Space Business park opposite Estec (ESA)
  • The Huygens-building at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. One of the major buildings of the science department at the university of Nijmegen.

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