Physicist Stephen Hawking, a black hole whisperer who divined secrets of the universe’s most inscrutable objects, died March 14 at age 76. In addition to his scientific research, Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, was known for his popular science books, including the best-selling A Brief History of Time, which captivated readers with lucid explanations of the universe’s birth and the physical laws that rule the cosmos.
In one of his best-known discoveries, Hawking determined that black holes are not truly black. Instead, they emit a faint haze of particles, known as Hawking radiation (SN: 5/31/14, p. 16). This discovery, which arose at the interface of gravity and quantum mechanics, had remarkable consequences. It suggested that black holes are not eternal, but eventually evaporate. That led to a conundrum known as the black hole information paradox (SN: 10/3/15, p. 10): When a black hole disappears, what happens to the information that fell into it? Physicists are still puzzling over that question.
In the face of physical disabilities due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which profoundly limited his mobility and ability to communicate, Hawking became one of science’s most well-known figures, and survived far beyond the timeline initially expected given his condition.
Science News has covered Hawking’s work extensively over the past decades, including his four laws of black hole mechanics, his work on miniature black holes and, most recently, Hawking’s search for a solution to the black hole paradox.