The System of Saturn


Christiaan Huygens (1629–95) was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, into a prominent Dutch family. Unlike his grandfather, father, and brother who all served as secretaries and diplomats to the ruling house of Orange, Huygens dedicated himself to science and mathematics. He published three mathematical books, produced a manuscript on hydrostatics, wrote a work on the collision of elastic bodies, did research on centrifugal force, and invented the pendulum clock. Huygens was especially intrigued by the planet Saturn, whose protruding “handles” were visible through the telescopes of the day but impossible to explain. With his brother Constantijn, Huygens built a powerful telescope with which he hoped to unravel the mystery of Saturn’s unusual appearance. Huygens discovered Saturn’s moon, Titan, and he put forward the theory that the planet was surrounded by a thin, flat ring. In 1659, Huygens published his Systema Saturnium, in which he calculated that Saturn’s moon took just under 16 days to orbit the planet and presented the evidence for his theory that Saturn was surrounded by a ring tilted 20 degrees to the plane of Saturn’s orbit. American inventor, book collector, and philanthropist Bern Dibner (1897–1988) selected Systema Saturnium as one of the “Heralds of Science,” the 200 most significant titles in the development of Western science and technology.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Adriaan Vlacq, The Hague


Title in Original Language

Systema Saturnium

Type of Item

Physical Description

84 pages, 1 folded plate : illustrated ; 20 centimeters

Last updated: February 12, 2016