There are a couple of books I can honestly say inspired me to be an astronomer. In college, junior / senior year in high school for those in the USA, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after I’d finished my A-levels. However, years of watching Star Trek and vivid memories of my childhood, like the appearance of comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 and the watching the total eclipse of the Sun in Cornwall in 1999, had given me a fascination with space. Though, it wasn’t until reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan and A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking that made me want to aspire, one day, to be an astrophysicist. Carl Sagan has long since passed, but today saw the sad passing of Professor Stephen Hawking.
Stephen Hawking was, as I’m sure many will attest one of the most unique and insightful minds of the century. I’ve never actually had the honour of meeting him, but he’s not the kind of person you had to meet for him to touch your life. Before I was really aware of him as a physicist, my abiding memory of him was this Specsavers advert from 1999.
as well as the Pink Floyd song Keep Talking, which is one of my personal favourites from the album.
In fact, his appearances in so many different guises in within popular culture elevated him from just being a physicist and in many people eyes made him the physicist. In these many public appearances he got to show off his trademark sublime sense of humour, which I personally found very endearing.
However, I’m sure that most will agree that he was at his very best in his science and his writing. His work, both in academia and the public consciousness, inspired a generation of physicists with his poignant ideas and eloquent writing that truly brought the wonders of the universe to everyone who read his works. There are very few postgrads I know that have not, at one point or another, read a Brief History of Time. So, I just want to take a brief moment to say thank you to Stephen Hawking, truly a one off, for making everyone excited about black holes and the infinite possibilities of the universe.
“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.”
RIP Stephen Hawking (1947 – 2018)