Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In Memoriam: Stephen Hawking

Professor Hawking’s insights shaped modern cosmology and inspired global audiences in the millions.
Perhaps the greatest cosmologist ever - Stephen Hawking - died  at 76.

Stephen Hawking, one of the the brightest stars in the firmament of science, whose insights into modern cosmology inspired millions, has died aged 76.  Hawking's family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday morning confirming his death at his home in Cambridge.

Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world."
He once said: ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever.”
Well all of us will miss him, especially those of us who have written books that promoted his ideas, such as the 'boundary free cosmos" as well as imaginary time.  Indeed, anyone who'e been involved in astronomy at any level - even if they haven't read his ground breaking book, 'A Brief History of Time.   This was the work, not some abstract theoretical paper, that rocketed him to fame.  
Published for the first time in 1988, the title made the Guinness Book of Records after it stayed on the London Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. It sold 10 million copies and was translated into 40 different languages. 

In 1974 Hawking drew on quantum theory to declare that stellar black holes - i.e. collapsed from large mass stars- were not the only type. There should also be "mini" or quantum scale  holes capable of emitting heat and eventually popping out of existence. For normal black holes, the process is not a fast one,  taking longer than the age of the universe for a black hole to terminate.. But near the ends of their lives, mini-black holes release heat at a spectacular rate, eventually exploding with the energy of a million one-megaton hydrogen bombs. Miniature black holes dot the universe, Hawking said, each as heavy as a billion tonnes, but no larger than a proton.
His proposal that black holes radiate heat stirred up one of the most passionate debates in modern cosmology. Hawking argued that if a black hole could evaporate into a bath of radiation, all the information that fell inside over its lifetime would be lost forever. It contradicted one of the most basic laws of quantum mechanics, and plenty of physicists disagreed.

More recently, Prof. Hawking achieved even more popular renown in the Oscar-nominated movie,  The Theory of Everything, in which Brit Eddie Redmayne played the lead role and won Best Actor Oscar. Hawking also appeared on The Simpsons and played poker with Einstein and Newton on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He  also delivered  memorable put-downs of  the insufferable geekazoid,  Sheldon Cooper, on The Big Bang Theory.
While it is true that Prof. Hawking never won a Nobel Prize, that should not diminish the respect and gratitude those of us who've worked in space science, astronomy or cosmology have for him. In that regard, I leave readers with the following links to previous posts I've written to do with Stephen's various forays:

 See also this interesting Hawking lecture on 'how to escape from a black hole':
We will surely miss your wit and intellect, Professor Hawking!

See also:

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