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Stephen Hawking, Cosmology’s Brightest Star, Dies Aged 76

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Professor Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist and author of A Brief History of Time, has died at the age of 76.

He died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Prof Hawking’s most famous scientific insight concerned the arcane physics of black holes. He discovered the phenomenon which has become known as Hawking radiation, where black holes leak energy and fade to nothing.

As tributes to the acclaimed physicist poured in from around the world, the University of Cambridge said he was “an inspiration to millions” and his work will leave “an indelible legacy”.

Prof Hawking’s life had been dominated – positively as well as negatively – by an incurable form of motor neurone disease, which left him in a wheelchair and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser.

At the age of 22, when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1963, doctors gave him just 14 months to live.

In a statement early on Wednesday, Prof Hawking’s children Lucy, Robert and Tim said: “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 humour 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 forever.”

‘I try to lead as normal a life as possible’: Prof Hawking on living with ALS

Prof Hawking was left having to use a wheelchair by the time he was 30. In 1986, aged 44, his voice was removed to save his life after an attack of pneumonia.

From then on, he spoke through a computer synthesiser on the arm of his wheelchair.

“I am quite often asked: how do you feel about having ALS?” he once wrote. “The answer is, not a lot.

“I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many.”

Prof Hawking was Britain’s most famous modern day scientist, a genius with a razor-sharp wit who dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of the Universe.

“My goal is simple,” he once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

‘A Brief History of Time’

Much of that work centred on bringing together relativity – the nature of space and time – and quantum theory – how the smallest particles in the Universe behave – to explain the creation of the Universe and how it is governed.

Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of ““A Brief History of Time”, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for no fewer than 237 weeks.

Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane on their wedding day
Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane on their wedding day

He said he wrote the book to convey his own excitement over recent discoveries about the universe.

“My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. ”

In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”

 Professor Stephen Hawking

In 1974, he became one of the youngest fellows of Britain’s most prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, at the age of 32.

Five years later, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, where he had moved from Oxford University to study theoretical astronomy and cosmology.

A previous holder of the prestigious post was the 17th-century British scientist Isaac Newton.

The news of his illness came as an enormous shock that for a time plunged the budding academic into deep despair. But he was rescued by an old friend, Jane Wilde, who went on to become his first wife, giving him a family with three children.

Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years, until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.

Tributes poured on social media as scientists and celebrities hailed a man who had brought complex science to the masses with his best-seller “A Brief History of Time”.

The US space agency described Professor Hawking as an “ambassador of science”.

“Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on the  Space Station in 2014,” it tweeted.

 

Lawrence M. Krauss, the theoretical physicist and best-selling author, said a “star just went out in the cosmos”.

“We have lost an amazing human being. Stephen Hawking fought and tamed  the cosmos bravely for 76 years and taught us all something important about what it truly means to celebrate about being human. I will miss him.”

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said “his passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake”.

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