A Minor Planet of a Very Average Star

march192018

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” – Stephen Hawking — on March 14, 2018 the world lost one of its most advanced thinkers.

Stephen Hawking contributed immensely to the fields of physics, mathematics, and astronomy, and fundamentally changed how we understand the universe and our place in it. This week, I want to pay homage to his amazing mind by talking about some of his thoughts and discoveries.

Hawking Radiation 

Before Stephen Hawking, scientists believed that black holes were just that: black. They thought that the gravitational pull of a black hole was so strong that nothing (including light) could escape it. However, Hawking theorized that based on quantum mechanics, black holes should actually emit large amounts of particles in the form of radiation. Black hole radiation, appropriately named Hawking Radiation, is now widely accepted, and has drastically changed how we perceive black holes. 

The Singularity

Using the work of Albert Einstein, Hawking proved the first of many singularity theorems, showing that the universe started as a singularity (or a point in space time where the density of matter become infinite and therefore the laws of time and physics no longer applied). This showed mathematically that the universe had a concrete beginning and end.   

The Theory of Everything

Hawing believed strongly in the importance of unifying the theory of general relativity (the stretching and bending of space and time by gravity) and quantum mechanics (the math behind the motion and interaction of subatomic particles) into one theory which he referred to as the “theory of everything.” General relativity and quantum mechanics both work very well to mathematically describe and predict the reality around us. However, both theories use different formulations and provide fundamentally different and incompatible representations of the universe. The theory of everything would combine these two theories into a cohesive theory that would accurately describe the universe. 

Science for the People

Perhaps one of my favorite things about Stephen Hawking is that he believed that things like physics, quantum mechanics, string theory, etc. should be accessible to everyone. Through his many writings, public talks, films, and pop culture appearances, he was able to take ideas that are complex and difficult to understand, and communicate them to the general public in a way that was fun and memorable. For him, these ideas should not be confined just to a class room or laboratory, but should be spread widely and shared by all. 

March 19, 2018

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