Was our most brilliant scientist, Christiaan Huygens, nearsighted and needed glasses? | Interior
Although Holland’s most eminent scientist, Christiaan Huygens, trailed high-quality lenses, his telescopes lacked sharpness. The reason may lie in the fact that Huygens actually needed glasses, says Leiden astronomer Alex Pietrow.
Huygens (1629-1695) was one of the leading scientists and inventors of the 17th century and is often mentioned in the same breath as the Briton Isaac Newton. The son of the diplomat and writer Constantijn Huygens invented, among other things, the pendulum clock and discovered that Saturn had a large ring as well as the moon Titan. He built telescopes and is also known for his revolutionary wave theory of light.
The lenses of his instruments are made by the mathematician, physicist and astronomer Huygens himself. For this time, they are of excellent quality. Huygens himself proclaimed that he made the best lenses in the world. Paradoxically, however, his telescopes lacked the sharpness that was achievable at the time.
In an article published this week in the Journal of the Royal Society for the History of Science comes Leiden astronomer Alex Pietrow with A declaration above: Huygens was myopic, in other words: he was myopic.
Huygen’s myopia was reflected in his telescope designs. He corrected his own eye defect there. Focusing by rotating the lenses as nowadays was not possible at the time.
Concretely, this means that its telescopes have grown by a factor of 3.5 more than necessary. It’s not because the lenses themselves weren’t high quality, but because of the combination of them. This made objects in the sky appear blurrier and larger for users with normal vision.
Huygens’ myopia was slight. Glasses of -1.5 would probably have been enough to see clearly again. He therefore had little difficulty in using it in everyday life.
According to Charlotte Icke – she wrote a biography on the life of Christiaan and her father Constantijn – this makes Pietrow’s theory plausible. At first, she was still somewhat skeptical. “Glasses were already available in the 17th century and Huygens was so lucky he could easily have had one,” she says. ,,Huygens’ father, Constantijn, also knew the most modern gadgets of his time. Christiaan would undoubtedly have had glasses if needed.”
However, the 17th century had no cars, televisions or cinemas. ,,Huygens will therefore not have realized that he needed glasses.” At most, it could be different in his last years in Paris, teaches Icke. ,,Huygens liked to ride fast in a horse-drawn carriage, he and his brother Constantijn junior liked to race with them in Paris. Good visibility is of course welcome.
It was perhaps then that Huygens discovered the need for glasses. Another fun fact, concludes Icke. ,,We also owe our modern suspension in cars to Huygen’s predilection for car racing. After all, a high-speed car is very uncomfortable, especially on the roads of that time. Huygens then invented the suspension for that.”
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