Happy birthday, Hawking

Posted by Eric Betz
on Thursday, January 08, 2015

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking celebrates his 73rd birthday today. // NASA
The world's most famous cosmologist celebrates his 73rd birthday today.

The occasion marks 52 years since doctors told the then 21-year-old Stephen Hawking that he would ultimately die of the motor-neuron disease that eventually claimed all of his physical capabilities, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Thankfully, they were wrong.

Despite his declining physical state, Hawking persisted in his Herculean mental feats and enriched our understanding of black hole cosmology in the process.  

His life and success is a reminder to all of us to live our lives with intention and gratitude, moving forward each day in spite of the obstacles we face, few of which rise to the level of those Hawking has now overcome for more than a half century.

And on a personal level, Hawking inspired me to major in astronomy. As an 18-year-old fresh out of high school and with an uncertain future, I set out to backpack around England and Scotland. A Brief History of Time was the only book I packed, and I read it eagerly on trains and in hostels across the Highlands. Before I returned home from the trip, I'd committed myself to pursuing the mysteries of the cosmos. Other great science writers like Carl Sagan and Timothy Ferris would build on that spark.

My pursuit is different today than the one I envisioned at 18, but it's still what gets me out of bed in the morning, and I'm grateful to Hawking for the initial inspiration.

To commemorate the day, the Discovery Channel will air the sensational 2004 BBC movie Hawking with Benedict Cumberpatch on Saturday, January 10. And, due to its rather incredible box office success portraying the physicist's life, the excellent Theory of Everything is also still in many theaters around the world.

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