September 1, 2007
Stephen Hawking is the most famous
scientist on the planet.
His popular science book
A Brief History of
Time was a publishing sensation, staying at the top of the
bestseller lists longer than any other book in recent history. But
behind the public face lies an argument that has been raging for
almost 30 years.
Hawking shot to fame in the world of physics when he provided a
mathematical proof for the
Big Bang theory. This theory showed that
the entire universe exploded from a singularity, an infinitely small
point with infinite density and infinite gravity. Hawking was able
to come to his proof using mathematical techniques that had been
developed by Roger Penrose.
These techniques were however developed
to deal not with the beginning of the Universe but with black holes.
Science had long predicted that if a sufficiently large star
collapsed at the end of its life, all the matter left in the star
would be crushed into an infinitely small point with infinite
gravity and infinite density -
Hawking realized that
the Universe was, in effect, a black hole in reverse.
Instead of matter being crushed into a singularity, the Universe
began when a singularity expanded to form everything we see around
us today, from stars to planets to people.
Hawking realized that to
come to a complete understanding of the Universe he would have to
unravel the mysteries of the black hole.