Ad Astra, Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking in zero gravity. Credit: NASA

Ad Astra, Stephen Hawking

14/03/2018Written by Tamela Maciel

Remembering the life and remarkable science of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

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mascot Telescope Right
Stephen Hawking. Credit: NASA
Black hole simulation. Credit: NASA
Stephen Hawking in zero gravity. Credit: NASA

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Professor Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking was a British cosmologist who tackled some of the biggest mysteries of the universe – black holes, the Big Bang, and the physics that describes objects that are both incredibly massive and very small.

By weaving together the complex theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics, Hawking was the first to predict that black holes can lose small amounts of energy, or radiation, over time. This theory of Hawking radiation now bears his name.

But Hawking was best known and loved for his humanity.

For most of his life, he battled a debilitating motor neurone disease, ALS, but never stopped encouraging others to persevere in the face of obstacles.

He studied some of the most exotic, complicated physics in the universe, but never shied from sharing his work with the wider world as a popular ambassador for science. When he made his PhD thesis open access in 2017, this proved so popular that the Cambridge library website temporarily crashed.

He championed curiosity, wonder, and human exploration – and always with a characteristic directness, enthusiasm, and wry humour. One time he even threw a party for time travellers, but only advertised it after the fact.

Hawking inspired millions of people in the UK and around the world to ponder the big, open questions of the universe through popular science books such as A Brief History of Time, his countless public lectures (such as Into A Black Hole), and his guest appearances on shows as diverse as Star Trek, The Simpsons, and Red Dwarf.

In 2007, he even took a flight in microgravity in the ‘Vomit Comet’ plane in the hopes of encouraging future space travel.

To future students of science, Hawking said:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Ad Astra, Stephen Hawking!

About the author: Dr Tamela Maciel is the Space Communications Manager at the National Space Centre.