London, June 16 (IANS) The ashes of the late British physicist Stephen Hawking have been laid to rest at London’s iconic Westminster Abbey alongside the graves of two of humanity’s greatest scientists, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, while a satellite dish beamed a recording of his distinctive voice into a black hole in deep space.
Relatives, scientists, astronauts, Nobel prize winners, actors and students congregated at the Gothic church on Friday to honour a man who made extraordinary contributions to modern cosmology and helped make the complex world of black holes accessible to the wider public in his trademark didactic and straightforward manner, Efe reported.
Among the attendees were some 1,000 people from over 100 countries that were lucky enough to be selected in a draw allowing them access to the solemn farewell to the brilliant astrophysicist, who passed away on Mar. 14 aged 76 in the medieval university city of Cambridge.
The high demand for tickets (some 25,000 people took part in the sweep) bespoke Hawking’s enormous popularity all over the world, as his larger-than-life persona transcended the obscure world of academics and became a staple of pop culture, with appearances on “The Simpsons” and an award-winning biopic starring Eddie Redmayne, who was also present at the ceremony.
Hawking’s cremated remains were placed in the abbey’s so-called “Scientists’ Corner,” a section dedicated to the United Kingdom’s most groundbreaking scientists, including Michael Faraday (the discoverer of electromagnetic induction and inventor of the electric dynamo) and James Clerk Maxwell (who formulated the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation).
Hawking’s tombstone was inscribed with a formula that constitutes his most famous equation, describing the entropy of a black hole.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in a BBC series, read a Biblical passage — despite the physicist’s assertive atheism — while British astronaut Tim Peake did the same with a different excerpt from scripture.
Shortly after the burial, Hawking’s voice was broadcast from the European Space Agency’s parabolic antennae in Cebreros (central Spain) along with a musical background composed by Greek musician Vangelis, known for his memorable film soundtracks such as “Chariots of Fire” or “Blade Runner.”
“It is a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet,? said Hawking’s daughter Lucy in a statement. ?This is a beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father?s presence on this planet, his wish to go into space and his explorations of the universe in his mind.?
The recording was beamed towards Earth’s nearest black hole, 1A 0620-00, which lies in a binary system with an orange dwarf star.
Born in Oxford on January 8, 1942, Hawking was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the world of science in the 20th century, not just as a theoretician and astrophysicist, but also as a popular science writer, as evinced by the millions of people who still buy his books to this day.
In 1986, he wrote “A Brief History of Time,” an international bestseller which made him one of the most prominent names in science since Albert Einstein.
Over the course of his adult life, Hawking suffered from a motor-neuron condition linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), diagnosed in 1963.
The disease aggravated with time until he was practically paralysed and forced to communicate with a speech synthesizer, although this did not stop him from delving deeper into the secrets of the universe.
Despite his physical condition, which started to deteriorate when he was 21, Hawking went on to live for more than half a century with a disease that often leads to a premature death.