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Profile: Stephen Hawking

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On March 14, 2018, at the age of 77, the physicist Stephen Hawking died – it’s hard to find another modern scientist who has been so hard at studying the arrangement of black holes. He adhered to the theory of the “big bang” when it was still ambiguous, engaged in science in spite of a serious illness and answered the question whether the universe could be considered infinite.

In addition to research discoveries, Hawking, who for most of his life suffered from a serious illness, sought to popularize science both among adults and children. He regularly gave lectures and expressed an opinion about where the mankind is moving, and what he should be afraid of in the future.

Life with a serious illness

Most of the life of Hawking was paralyzed. In 1963, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which gradually led to paralysis. First, the diseases become numb and lose the sensitivity of the hands and feet, and then the brain and spinal cord for an unknown reason stop sending a signal to the muscles. There is no cure for the disease. Usually the disease manifests itself in 50-80 years, but the physicist faced him at 21 years old.

Doctors predicted that he would live no more than two and a half years, but the disease progressed slowly. The scientist watched as his whole body gradually fell into disrepair – in 1985 he lost the ability to speak. At the same time, American computer specialists presented Hawking with a speech synthesizer. Over the years, the mobility retained only the index finger on the scientist’s hand, with which he controlled the wheelchair and computer. In later years, the physicist could move only the mimic muscle of the cheek, to which the sensor was attached to work with the computer.

Stephen Hawking in 1979. Getty Photos

For every 100 thousand people in the UK (the statistics for each country varies), there are approximately five thousand cases of motor neuron diseases (including amyotrophic sclerosis). Most of the patients die within five years of the diagnosis, and the rest live no more than 10 years. Hawking has lived more than 50 years with the disease. She did not prevent him from marrying twice, to have three children, to make a short-term flight in zero gravity and to continue his discoveries.

Achievements

In the modern world, the theory of the origin of the universe as a result of the “big bang” is accepted almost universally, but in the 1960s Hawking was one of the few who adhered to it. In the 1970s, together with the physicist Roger Penrose, he, on the basis of the discoveries of Albert Einstein, formulated the theory of the appearance of a “big bang” as a result of the expansion of the singularity (roughly speaking, it was an object in which everything existed). Hawking suggested that the energy for the “big bang” occurred as a result of the explosion of millions of black holes.

Then Hawking determined that black holes always tend to expand. The larger the black hole, the more its event horizon is an imaginary border, after which nothing can escape absorption.

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One of the most important discoveries of a physicist, which still causes controversy in the scientific community, is the so-called ” Hawking radiation “. In the 1970s, the scientist proved that a black hole generates radiation consisting of electrons, positrons, protons and other particles. It was believed that when analyzing this radiation, one can understand not only the origin of the black hole, but also the objects missing in it. However, the observations of the scientist showed that the radiation does not carry any information in itself.

On the basis of this discovery, the physicist formulated a theory known as the ” Hawking Paradox “. It follows that when a black hole hits any object, including light, information about it disappears somewhere and does not appear in the radiation. This theory provoked a heated discussion among scientists, as it contradicts the principle of quantum field theory – information can not disappear.

Since it was not possible to confirm or refute the Hawking theory confidently, scientists supplement the existing version. One of them is connected with another discovery of the physicist: he proved that radiation produces only fully formed black holes, and after that they begin to slowly disappear.

Hawking believed that in the universe there is no concept of “boundary” or “limit”, hence, it is infinite.

As Hawking has learned , it takes more time to evaporate a full-fledged black hole than the Milky Way galaxy exists – about 13 billion years. However, small black holes disappear faster, and in the last ten seconds of their existence, they release energy comparable to the explosion of a million hydrogen bombs. According to one version, it is at this time that a black hole releases information hidden in itself, and it dissipates through space.

In 2004, Hawking said that the information still does not disappear without a trace, and under the influence of a black hole is strongly deformed. However, in 2015 the physicist assumed that the data of objects absorbed by black holes do not fall into it at all. Roughly speaking, their track remains on the horizon of events, as if hanging between the territory of a black hole and the rest of the space.

This theory is not confirmed and is still perceived in the scientific community with doubts, but scientists still consider the discovery of Hawking and the accompanying contradictions “an excellent logical puzzle with a huge potential benefit.” After all, if physicists can get information that has been in a black hole, theoretically they will be able to prove what is happening there.

Forecasts

In addition to scientific activities, Hawking wrote books on the structure of the universe. Unlike colleagues who published works only in scientific journals, the physicist tried to explain everything to ordinary people. “The world in a nutshell,” “Higher Design,” “A Brief History of Time” – these books have become bestsellers, since the scientist sought to explain the principles of work in plain language. Together with Lucy’s daughter, he also came up with a series of science fiction books for schoolchildren, where a hero named George studies the main topics of the work of the universe, the cosmos and black holes.

In 2003, Hawking opposed the war in Iraq with the participation of the United States and instead called for attention to the problem of global warming. The physicist signed a declaration in support of the theory of evolution of Charles Darwin and protested against the teaching of creationism in municipal schools.

In July 2015, the physicist became a partner of the Breakthrough Listen project to search for extraterrestrial life. The author of the idea was co-founder Mail.Ru Group Yuri Milner, he promised to invest $ 100 million in the operation within ten years. In recent years, the physicist has increasingly said that he believes in the existence of extraterrestrial life and in the likelihood that humanity will meet with her.

Stephen Hawking with Barack Obama before the delivery of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – one of the two highest awards for civilians. Photos of Shutterstock

Over the years, Hawking stressed that people need to start migration to other planets as soon as possible. As the physicist believed , humanity will perish if the moon or Mars is not colonized on time. Variants of the causes of extinction are enough: overpopulation, a sharp change in climate or an asteroid impact. The scientist admitted that the development of artificial intelligence of robots can seriously help humanity, but was afraid that such an advantage of the machine over a person can lead to devaluation of human skills in various professions.

The physicist also adhered to the version that time travel is possible, but for this, specialists need to find a hole in space and time. In this, as believed by Hawking, black holes can help. In his opinion , the object that got into it can come out from the other side, but not the fact that it will not change completely.

Against the backdrop of the referendum on the separation of Great Britain from the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, the physicist urged people to stick together. He was worried that the UK exit would lead to an outflow of researchers and scholars from the country. “Gone are the days when we could stand alone against the whole world. We need to become part of a huge group of nations, both for our security and for exchange, “the scientist said.

Being a convinced atheist, Hawking often repeated that the universe had appeared and would emerge from nothing. It was thanks to this phenomenon that humanity appeared, the expert considered.

I treat the brain as a computer that stops working when its components break down. For destroyed computers there is no paradise or afterlife, this is a magical story for those who are afraid of the dark.

Stephen Hawking
physicist
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