Stephen Hawking, world renowned scientist, cosmologist, and theoretical physicist (among many other titles), died on March 14 at age 76. Since the age of 21, Hawking had battled with a motor neuron disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
While his death comes as a surprise to those of us who cherished his life’s work and refused to believe that such a brilliant mind would one day cease to exist, Hawking left us in the best way he could – by passing away on the birthday of another genius, and role model for Hawking, Albert Einstein.
Hawking brought a lot to the world of theoretical physics, and his legacy will continue to live on through others who share in his passions and dedication to science. So let’s take a moment to appreciate the true genius he was and some of the accomplishments he made throughout his life.
Wormholes and Time Travel
In 2010, Hawking shared with us his wisdom about time travel. He refers to himself as a “physicist, a cosmologist, and somewhat of a dreamer” before diving into what some may dismiss as science fiction, but those of us who truly believe in the wonders of our universe would classify as highly possible.
As a dreamer, Hawking shares what he would do if he were able to travel through time: “If I had a time machine I’d visit Marilyn Monroe in her prime or drop in on Galileo as he turned his telescope to the heavens. Perhaps I’d even travel to the end of the universe to find out how our whole cosmic story ends.”
Instead of the time machines like we see in movies or on television, such as a Tardis made from a phone booth or a tricked-out Delorean, Hawking describes time travel using a wormhole. Wormholes are basically tunnels through space that can shorten the distance between time. This could assist in time travel by allowing a person to move either forward or backward through the tunnel to their destined period in history or the future. They were first introduced through Einstein’s theory of relativity. Hawking describes these wormholes as very small and hidden throughout space and time in all the crannies and crevices.
By harvesting enough energy, Hawking believed we could use these wormholes to travel. We would need a lot of energy, though. The fastest manned vehicle in history was Apollo 10. It reached 25,000mph. To travel in time we’ll have to go more than 2,000 times faster than that.
The Four Laws of Black Hole Mechanics
In the 1960s, Hawking discovered the four laws of black hole mechanics alongside two other physicists, James Bardeen and Brandon Carter. These laws represent the physical properties belonging to black holes and are comparable to the same laws in thermodynamics.
While physicist had long believed nothing could ever escape a black hole, Hawking showed that black holes actually emit radiation, which means that something can, in fact, escape from them. This radiation continues to emit from the black hole until it exhausts itself of all energy and evaporates. The Hawking Radiation theory was met with a lot of controversy at first, but later became accepted and was considered an important breakthrough in theoretical physics.
In 1971, Hawking’s essay titled “Black Holes” won the Gravity Research Foundation Award.
In 2006, Hawking partnered with fellow physicist Thomas Hertog of CERN to introduce what is know as “top-down cosmology.” This theory states that rather than having just one initial state, the universe could have actually had a series of original positions that all lent a helping hand in creating what we know as our modern universe.
Since this opened up a lot of questions about the original state of our universe, there is no way we can use a “bottom-up” model for its timeline. Instead, according to Hawking and Hertog, we must take what we know as our current state and work backward.
Hertog claims that their theory predicts the pattern of the variations in intensity of microwave background radiation, the afterglow of the Big Bang now imprinted on the sky, which reveal fluctuations in the fireball of the nascent Universe. These variations are minute, but space-based detectors have measured them ever more accurately over the past several years.
A Brief History of Time
In 1988, Hawking published his book titled A Brief History of Time, in which he explains the idea behind cosmology, black holes, and the big bang. A Brief History of Time became a bestseller and sold more than 10 million copies in 20 years. It also enhanced Hawking’s international reputation and media described him as ‘Master of the Universe’.
“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world,” he says in the book. “Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”
Stephen Hawking will forever be one of the most brilliant figures to ever inhabit this earth. His ability to understand concepts of time and space and relay them to the average person was not only a gift, but necessary in our modern world in which people, even those of us with a fascination for such topics, do not have the same skills needed to decipher the universe on such a level. While his legacy will live on, we will be hard pressed to find someone as gifted and exceptional as Stephen Hawking.