Hawk­ing’s stel­lar send­off

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

LONDON The uni­verse that Stephen Hawk­ing spent a life­time study­ing now knows his voice.

The renowned Bri­tish physi­cist, who died in March, hav­ing bat­tled de­bil­i­tat­ing de­gen­er­a­tive mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease for decades, was re­mem­bered at a memo­rial ser­vice yes­ter­day at West­min­ster Abbey. His ashes were buried be­tween Charles Dar­win and Isaac New­ton and later cov­ered with a grave­stone – etched with an equa­tion he used to teach the world about black holes.

At the same time his ashes were low­ered into the ground, his voice was beamed from Earth to­wards the near­est known black hole in the uni­verse, thou­sands of light years away.

It was a ‘‘sym­bolic ges­ture’’, his loved ones said, that fi­nally let him travel into space.

Fam­ily mem­bers, friends, fel­low sci­en­tists and celebri­ties gath­ered at the ser­vice to cel­e­brate Hawk­ing’s life and the legacy he left be­hind.

Hawk­ing’s ashes were in­terred in the Sci­en­tists’ Cor­ner in the abbey and then, fit­tingly, cov­ered with a grave­stone etched with the equa­tion he used to the­o­rise that black holes are not com­pletely black but faintly leak ther­mal ra­di­a­tion, ac­com­pa­nied by a de­pic­tion of a black hole.

Dur­ing the cer­e­mony, Hawk­ing’s voice was be­ing beamed into the cos­mos.

Greek com­poser Van­ge­lis – most fa­mous for his Academy Award-win­ning score to Char­i­ots of Fire – set Hawk­ing’s voice to an orig­i­nal piece of mu­sic, which was sent into space through a mas­sive an­tenna at the Euro­pean Space Agency’s (ESA) ground sta­tion in Spain.

‘‘Around the time that our fa­ther was laid to rest, the Van­ge­lis com­po­si­tion with our fa­ther’s voice was broad­cast into space,’’ Hawk­ing’s daugh­ter, Lucy Hawk­ing, said in a state­ment by the space agency. ‘‘This is a beau­ti­ful and sym­bolic ges­ture that cre­ates a link be­tween our fa­ther’s pres­ence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his ex­plo­rations of the uni­verse in his mind.’’

Van­ge­lis said in a state­ment posted on Hawk­ing’s web­site that he cre­ated the piece to ‘‘pay trib­ute and ex­press my high es­teem and re­spect to this ex­traor­di­nary man’’.

‘‘I imagine he will con­tinue to travel with the same de­vo­tion, wher­ever he may be, in the known un­known. Farewell, Pro­fes­sor Hawk­ing.’’

It is un­clear what Hawk­ing said in the record­ing, but CDs were cre­ated for those who at­tended the memo­rial ser­vice.

The ESA said the cer­e­mo­nial broad­cast was beamed to­wards 1A 0620-00, a bi­nary star sys­tem that in­cludes a stel­lar-mass black hole, about 3500 light years from Earth.

‘‘It is fas­ci­nat­ing and at the same time mov­ing to imagine that Stephen Hawk­ing’s voice to­gether with the mu­sic by Van­ge­lis will reach the black hole in about 3500 years, where it will be frozen in by the event hori­zon,’’ said the agency’s di­rec­tor of sci­ence, Gun­ther Hasinger.

Hawk­ing, who was said to be per­haps the great­est sci­en­tist of his gen­er­a­tion, died at age 76 in March at his home in Cam­bridge, where he had lived and worked for decades.

Hawk­ing is most notably re­mem­bered for his the­ory that black holes ‘‘can em­anate ther­mal ra­di­a­tion from sub­atomic pro­cesses at their bound­ary’’ – which is known as ‘‘Hawk­ing ra­di­a­tion.’’

This rev­e­la­tion im­pressed other sci­en­tists with the way it took Ein­stein’s gen­eral the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity, which is es­sen­tial for un­der­stand­ing the grav­ity of black holes, and con­nected it to newer the­o­ries of quan­tum me­chan­ics, which cover sub­atomic pro­cesses.

He also hy­poth­e­sised that minia­ture black holes, rem­nants of the Big Bang, may be strewn through space, though he noted that they had not yet been dis­cov­ered. ‘‘This is a pity, be­cause if they had, I would have got a No­bel Prize,’’ he joked.

When Hawk­ing was di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease at age 22, he was given only a few years to live.

He went on to con­duct ground­break­ing re­search into black holes and the ori­gins of the uni­verse, and gained global fame as a pop­u­lariser and com­mu­ni­ca­tor of sci­ence.

His book A Brief His­tory of Time sold nine mil­lion copies – even if many read­ers didn’t fin­ish it – and he ap­peared on AP, GETTY Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion, The Big Bang The­ory and The Simp­sons.

‘‘His name will live in the an­nals of sci­ence,’’ Astronomer Royal Martin Rees told the memo­rial ser­vice.

‘‘No­body else since Ein­stein has done more to deepen our un­der­stand­ing of space and time. Mil­lions have had their hori­zons widened by his books and lec­tures, and even more world­wide have been in­spired by a unique ex­am­ple of achieve­ment against all the odds.’’

The ser­vice in­cluded Bi­ble read­ings by ac­tor Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, who played Hawk­ing in a BBC drama, and Lucy Hawk­ing. Bri­tish astro­naut Tim Peake read from Queen Mab by poet Percy Bysshe Shel­ley, which evokes the won­ders of the uni­verse. Wash­ing­ton Post, AP

Lucy Hawk­ing lays flow­ers as the ashes of her fa­ther, Pro­fes­sor Stephen Hawk­ing, are laid to rest be­tween the graves of Charles Dar­win and Isaac New­ton in West­min­ster Abbey dur­ing his memo­rial ser­vice. At the same time, his voice was beamed to­wards the...

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