When he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged just 21, Stephen Hawking was only expected to live a few years. He will be 70 this month, and in an exclusive interview with New Scientist he looks back on his life and work.
NS – What has been the most exciting development in physics during the course of your career?
SH – COBE’s discovery of tiny variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background and the subsequent confirmation by WMAP that these are in excellent agreement with the predictions of inflation. The Planck satellite may detect the imprint of the gravitational waves predicted by inflation. This would be quantum gravity written across the sky.
New Scientist explains: The COBE and WMAP satellites measured the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the afterglow of the big bang that pervades all of space. Its temperature is almost completely uniform – a big boost to the theory of inflation, which predicts that the universe underwent a period of breakneck expansion shortly after the big bang that would have evened out its wrinkles.
If inflation did happen, it should have sent ripples through space-time – gravitational waves – that would cause variations in the CMB too subtle to have been spotted so far. The Planck satellite, the European Space Agency’s mission to study the CMB even more precisely, could well see them.
Read more from the interview here Stephen Hawking at 70