The European Space Agency Came Up with the Perfect Way to Memorialize Stephen Hawking After His Death
In March of this year, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76 due to complications from the motor neuron disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS). The debilitating disease left him relatively immobile and confined to a wheelchair. Upon losing his ability to speak, he communicated by interacting with an electronic device that synthesized words. He rose to worldwide fame for his teachings on space-time and the universe, and now it is fitting that a part of him has been sent into space.
Hawking spent most of his career studying black holes. Black holes represent an area of space where massive gravitational forces have deformed and collapsed space on itself, where nothing can escape the gravitational pull once an object has passed the point of no return known as the “event horizon.” Astrophysicists, such as Hawking, have postulated that no object is immune to the gravitational force of a black hole, whether electromagnetic radiation or particles of matter. Albert Einstein’s general relativity theory supports the concept of the formation of a black hole. Notably, Hawking discovered that from just beyond the event horizon, black holes emit a special form of radiation that has been termed Hawking radiation.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most intense, violent and powerful explosions in our universe, surpassed only by the Big Bang itself. Scientists know they exist; we’ve been tracking them for nearly 50 years. But the specific cause of these intense sources of energy has remained a mystery to us. Now, scientists have used telescopes to capture a gamma-ray burst as it happened, and they may have narrowed down exactly how they work.
Famed physicist Stephen Hawking proposed in 1974 that very small amounts of high-energy radiation, in the form of entangled particle pairs, known as Hawking radiation, could theoretically escape a black hole. This was controversial as it went against the conventional understanding that nothing, not energy or light, could escape a black hole. Since 1981, however, when physicist William Unruh discovered that fluid flows could mimic black holes, the hunt for this elusive process has driven researchers to create analogue black holes to test the possibilities of particles behaving unusually at a black hole’s event horizon.
Though so far it has not been possible to create a true black hole in a lab, researchers have used sound waves to make “dumb” or acoustic black holes since 2009. In 2015, Jeff Steinhauer, a physicist at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, who has been working on these black holes for the past seven years, is the first researcher to claim to have seen Hawking radiation in his lab-made, analogue black hole.