Hi, everyone. If you haven’t heard the news yet, today’s a sad day for the space sciences. Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist, has died. He was 76.
Many people have written much more eloquently than I can about Dr. Hawking, about their experiences in knowing him, and about his discoveries, and I think I’ll leave you to those, and to your favorite news outlet.
Like many of us, I was fascinated by “A Brief History of Time.” It was tough in places, but I was amazed at how accessible it all seemed. My first memory of him, though, was reading about him during a 100-level astronomy course as a college freshman in the early 1990s. Our textbook only mentioned him once, in a chapter about stellar evolution. The book mentions him by way of bringing up that black holes don’t need to be enormous and massive, as many of us think of them. Dr. Hawking theorized black holes the size of pinheads could exist, too, with the mass about the same as an asteroid.
I remember sitting with a friend on the top floor of our dorm that night, talking and looking out at the street below and the sky above. I started to imagine black holes everywhere I looked, maybe that part of the sky there, between those two stars, is full of black holes. What a thought. Imagine.
The elegance of what he described, from that one paragraph written by someone else, was one of the first times I recall the scale of the universe sending my mind whirring in that way that only these sorts of things do. For that, I’ll be forever thankful for him.
I’ve always loved this quote, which is all over the Internet again today: “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
Thanks for reading, and thank you Dr. Hawking, wherever you are.