Last night, physicist and celebrity scientist Stephen Hawking passed away at 76. This morning, the scientific community woke up to the news and both mourned his passing and celebrated Hawking’s life and work.
Hawking was, in addition to his huge pop culture presence, an esteemed scientist whose work touched physics and astronomy, such as his work on black holes and a theory of cosmology that link general relativity and quantum mechanics for the first time. As a result, the astronomy and physics community felt his loss particularly keenly.
But possibly the most touching tributes came from space agencies. As Hawking dealt with his ALS, many thought he’d never get to see the practical applications of his work. But space agencies put it to use, and played a role in ensuring Hawking got to do more than think about space.
One of the most frustrating things a scientist can hear is a dismissal of their work because people think it has no impact on their lives. Hawking likely heard this more than once, even as he became a celebrity. But the outpouring we’ve seen shows that Hawking and his work was more than a set of equations. Perhaps there is a measure of solace in the idea of many universes, which Hawking was a fierce advocate of; somewhere, out there, Hawking is still exploring the universe.