May 26, 2022

Unearthed: a rare 17th century book predicting extra-terrestrial life is up for auction


Dutch astronomer, mathematician, physicist, and inventor Christiaan Huygens is regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time. As well as inventing the pendulum clock, founding the wave theory of light and discovering the true shape of the rings of Saturn, it turns out he believed in the existence of aliens … as documented in a rare book which has just been unearthed.

The Celestial World Discover’d: Or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets was written in both English and Latin in 1698. It is an English first edition that has been found by books valuer Jim Spencer at a free antique valuation event in Gloucestershire, in the UK.  Illustrated with five folding plates, in the book Huygens ask why God would create other planets “just to be looked” upon from Earth, proposing there must be a greater purpose. Spencer said in a statement on the find:

“It’s fascinating to think who turned these pages in 1698, what they must’ve felt when reading these descriptions of life on Jupiter or Saturn before gazing up at the night sky.

“The book tries to describe what extra-terrestrial beings might look like, how they spend their time, even what their music sounds like. It seems almost comical, but it’s informed by scientific reasoning, and who knows how our own thoughts on these matters will appear to people looking back in 324 years.”

Such weird and wonderful musings include Huygens concluding aliens must have hands and feet, writing in the book:

“What could we invent or imagine that could be so exactly accommodated to all the design’d uses as the Hands are? Shall we give them an Elephant’s Proboscis. ‘Tis true, these beasts can lay hold of, or throw any thing, can take up even the smallest thing from the Ground … But all this is nothing to those Conveniences the Hand is so admirably suted to.

“That they have Feet scarce any one can doubt…[unless] they have found out the art of flying in some of those Worlds.”

He also believed they must enjoy leisure time, including a love of music:

“For if these new Nations live in Society, as I have pretty well show’d they do, ’tis somewhat more than probable that they enjoy not only the Profit, but the Pleasures arising from such a Society: such as Conversation, Amours, Jesting, and Sights.

“……if they take delight in Harmony, ’tis twenty to one but that they have invented musical Instruments.”

Plus Huygens believed, like humans, aliens must suffer ‘Misfortunes, Wars, Afflictions, Poverty’, because that’s what leads to invention and progress:

“If Men were to lead their whole Lives in an undisturb’d continual Peace, in no fear of Poverty, no danger of War, I don’t doubt they would live little better than Brutes, without all knowledge or enjoyment of those Advantages that make our Lives pass on with pleasure and profit.”

While some of Huygens conclusions may sound ridiculous to a modern reader, Spencer believes it makes compelling reading because even today, so many questions about the cosmos remain answered. He said:

“It’s a curious feeling when flicking through this book. The subject matter belongs to the future or science fiction, yet the writer is speaking to us from the past. I found myself realising that we’ve since explored not only more of space, but more of our own planet. For instance, he rules out the possibility of much larger animals than those here on Earth, but this was written before we’d understood anything of the dinosaurs.

“I think the subject matter is so compelling because it makes us chuckle at what they didn’t know, while staring up at the heavens and realising it’s still a mystery. It really is an out-of-this-world find.”

With a guide price of  £2,000-£3,000, the book will be sold by Hansons Auctioneers at Bishton Hall in Staffordshire on July 5.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.