, Research Paper
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME The book A Brief History of Time (1988) by Stephen Hawking is a one of a kind introduction to today s physics. It recently became a record standing over a hundred weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and about 237 weeks in The London Sunday Times best-seller list. The book has been translated in forty languages and has reached international popularity in many countries. Its author, Stephen William Hawking (1942), is one of the brightest scientist of our time, replacing the chair once held by Isaac Newton, as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. At first I was looking for some explanation about the Big Bang, my brother got me into the subject the day we saw the Blockbuster movie Contact. The motion picture is based on the novel created by Carl Sagan, a historical man of science. The movie is directed by Robert Zemeckis starring Jodie Foster as a radio astronomer who first intercepts an intelligent alien radio signal from a distant region in space. When the message is fully understood, it is known that inside that signal were blueprints for creating a machine capable of sending a traveler to another world. This causes a religious, political and scientific chaos in our society. The movie beautifully combines the purposes of both science and religion into the ultimate search for the truth. And the possibility of reaching out this far changes the way humanity look at themselves and their world. I found it fascinating how much there is to question and how little I knew. The beginning of Contact shows our little planet Earth, and in the background is the latest song released by Spice Girls in the radio. As the camera fades away, the radio and television transmission gradually changes to old songs and programs. The creators of the movie used remarkable pieces of our century to make the audience realize that the radio frequency waves goes on to infinity, travelling through space. We listen to the Beattles, the historical documentary of the men been sent to the moon, and even the I Love Lucy show. After that it s a complete silence since at that time in space humanity hadn t yet invented the radio or the television. And we have the oportunity to see just how our Universe looks like in the big picture. I was surprised, I have never thought of myself as insignificant as we all are- relatively. I wondered what and how could anything produce something so big, and how is that possible that the Universe is in fact expanding. When the movie ended I walked home with my brother. As usual we were discussing how good the movie was. I said that I really liked the beginning, making a question-coment about how can anyone possibly know, or even guess the Universe s structure the way the movie showed. Then I began to ask him all the questions that filled my head while watching Contact. My brother probably knows more physics than an ordinary person, so most of the terms he used to explain my simple questions were a whole other language to me. I had no idea what a singularity was and I thought of a black whole as a giant vacuum device. He said that I had a lot to learn before having this conversation with him – that s what he does. He criticises me for not being smart or good enough hoping that I ll do something about it.Just out of curiosity and maybe to prove something to myself, I decided to make a brief research on my own. Since I am studying Physics in one of my courses, I had a great insight from my teacher, Mr Ferguson, about the bibliography I should be looking at. He mentioned Stephen Hawking as a good author, but to get started I should look for Asimov or Gamow. He also said that if I m looking for answers, I shouldn t be doing this research at all. The more you know the more questions you will have. It makes a lot more sense now that I think about it. When you finally find out, let s just say, what a star is, then you wonder what makes it shine, what is its structure and how come they are in some specific areas in our space. After some visists to the school library I picked Stephen Hawking as a starter. The book A Brief History of Time was captivating having the line From the Big Bang to Black Holes as a complement in the cover, which led me to choose it in the fisrt place. I was willing to go further than that and take some other authors in consideration. Only I didn t know that such thing wouldn t be necessary. As many critics stated, Hawking gives the general reader an opportunity to learn some deep science directly from the source. and that (A Brief History of Time) is one of the best books for laymen [nonprofessional] on this subject in many years. . Even though I had some great authours in hand such as Isaac Asimov who wrote over 500 books in his lifetime including the triology of Undestanding Physics – and George Gamow the man who presented the Big Bang theory in 1948 – I decided to work on Hawking s studies since they are up-to-date. I went through the first chapters and it surprised me as I understood that physics doesn t have to be all about equations and big words, it can be clearly explained if seen through the eyes of a good writer and expositor. But I also learned that to better understand the field S. Hawking has developed his studies around, I needed to go back to the basics and learn more about cosmology the study of the origin, evolution and fate of the Universe. So I picked some other books with his name on it. Books that some other authors explained Hawking s studies and some others that included his biography. One might wonder why should anyone go through all that work, when no one would be evaluating it afterwards. I d say it s for self-satisfaction. Today we see new technology being created around us every second that goes by, but we never think about how we could get this far. How could we develop from savages to this modern life we now have. How man was able to reach the unseen and explain things we are not even sure they ever existed. How can we prove that all matter, everything we can see, touch or feel with our senses are made of atoms? And that atoms are made of elementary particles, which in turn are made of quarks. Things that are too far from our reach , or so small that our latest technology is not able to detect have to be explained for self-satisfaction. The unknown is what challenges the human being. That s why we came up with so many theories trying to explain facts we can t prove with real evidence at the present time, especially events we were not able to witness. Those facts are explained by scientists who hypothesize the possibilities, and later on take the best of them to formulate a theory. These specialists are theoretical physicists. They have an unlimited creativity and imagination. They see things that perhaps are not there. Stephen Hawking is probably the best of them. I believe that Hawking s talent for the job was probably developed due to his inabilty to walk. Most of us would be devastated if we became unable to stand, speak and even feed ourselves. But Hawking had a major problem to worry about. He had developed a severe and crippling disease – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS for short) the motor neurone disease. It is not just any disease, in the majority of the cases it s fatal. At that time, 1962, he was looking forward to acquire a Ph. D in his field, but the unfortunate news discouraged him from continuing. At a New Year s Eve party, he met Jane Wilde his present wife who gave him the strength and hope he needed not to give up. He worked himself around the effects of the disease, hiring nurses and dealing with simple operations at hospitals. So he kept going, further and higher, impressing many people around the world with his charm, and contributing to cosmology with his priceless work.
Different from experimental physicists, theoretical scientists do not make experiments. Their job is done inside their heads. Despite his disease and situation, Stephen considers himself lucky for his condition did not affect his ability to think, it only improved. Anyone might think that being confined to a wheelchair can only highten one s capacity to think. In Hawking s case this is only partially true. He had more time to think, but his life became meaningful only after he faced death. He realized how much he wants to accomplish before his life is over, and how much is there to still be learned. As he mentioned in one of his book interviews: – My goal is simple. It is the complete understanding of the Universe. Stephen Hawking s studies is based on both Einstein s general theory of relativity – theory that explains certain irregularities in the concept of relative motion – and Quantum mechanics – a theory based on using the concept of a quantity of electromagnetic radiation (quantum unit) to describe the properties of subatomic particles and the interactions of matter and radiation. While Einstein s works well only for large-scale calculations, Quantum Mechanics deals better on small scales. Hawking is one of the few scientists who can study and understand the mystery of the black holes in the universe. If you are standing in Earth and throw an object upwards, it will come back to you in a matter of time. That s because there s a force between the object and the Earth, which we call gravity. The harder you throw, the greater the time gravity will pull it back to you. Now think about a rocket being sent to space. The velocity of the rocket has to be greater than the force of gravity. The speed the rocket has to have to escape from the Earth s gravity is called escape speed. The Earth s escape speed is about 40,000 kilometre per hour. Gravity varies according to the mass. The Earth is massive enough to pull us against it. Even mountains and oceans are attracted to the Earth. If you consider a more massive body, such as our sun, the gravity in there is much greater than the one acting here. Now think about an object in space that is as heavy as the sun, but only as big as a large city. These objects are neutron stars. Their incredible quantity of mass squeezed in such a small area make this objects extremely dense. And their gravity would be about 10 billion times greater than the Earth s. In order to reach the escape speed in one of these stars, an object would have to travel tens of thousands of kilometres per second. There are places in our Universe that matter is compressed even more tightly in smaller areas. Those objects have a force of gravity so great that nothing, not even light travelling in the highest speed ever reached, can possibly escape from it. The gravity is so strong that no known force can resist it. These objects are called singularities. A singularity swallows anything that travels by reducing its size to zero! Since nothing, not even a ray of light can escape from it, the nearby region is a complete darkness. And for this reason, in 1969, the cosmologist John A. Wheeler named this region a Black Hole.Black holes are very exciting to be studied. However, Hawking took his focus away from it concentrating his work in Physics in his central interest, cosmology. Many people would say that the universe never began and it had always been there. That s what happened decades ago, when the brightest minds of the time primarily thought of the universe as a landscape on which time stretched infinitely into the past and would extend forever into the future . Only when Albert Einstein developed his general theory of relativity in the 1910 s he could come up with a surprising prediction: that the universe is in fact expanding. George Lema tre, a famous cosmologist, reasoned that if the universe was expanding, then the further you go back in the past, the closer together was the universe s matter. His basic idea has become the most widely accepted explanation for how the universe began, which is today known as the Big Bang. The idea of a singularity gave Hawking some interesting ideas. Considering Lema tre observation, Hawking went a little further – if matter would go back together, it would be compressed in the same place what could possibly be a singularity. So the Big Bang was the explosion of a singularity that started the present expansion in our Universe. I am not sure if I was enjoying my studies. Physics is not a subject that you can try to learn on your own and end up fully successful. Although complicated, the outcome of the research was more satisfactory than I expected. Many of us, at least once in our life wondered where did we come from, or why is the Universe the way it is? If the Universe had a beginning, what happened before it and what will happen to it in the future? What role does God play in the creation, and who created the Creator? Perhaps those questions were meant to be unanswered, but that only time will tell. But if you ever doubt about something men will not achieve technologically, also think about the crazy people who looked up in the sky and thought that one day man will be able to fly or step on the moon. The book is a complete success. It has sold one copy for every 750 men, women and children in the world. It proved that people around the globe is seaching for an answer to the big questions and taking an interest in them. It may not give you all the answers, but it will sure bring you closer to the truth. If there should be a theory that explained everything and if we do discover a complete theory, it should be in time understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why is it that we and the Universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason for then we would know the mind of God . Those were Stephen W. Hawking s last words in a Brief History of Time. By O. E. K. I want you to share my excitement at the discoveries, past and present, which have revolutionised the way we think. From the Big Bang to black holes, from dark matter to a possible Big Crunch, our image of the universe today is full of strange sounding ideas, and remarkable truths. The story of how we arrived at this picture is the story of learning to understand what we see.” –STEPHEN HAWKING BIBLIOGRAPHY: Author, The. Contact Jodie Foster. February 7, 1997. On-Line. Available: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Set/2417/contact.html. Hans G. Anderson and David McCarthy. Stephen Hawking s Universe. 1997. On-Line. Netscape. World Wide Web. Available: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/hawking/html/home.html.Hawking, Stephen W. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books,1988.Simon, Sheridan. Stephen Hawking: Unlocking the Universe. New York: Dillon Press, 1991McEvoy, J.P., and Zarate, Oscar. Stephen Hawking for Beginners. Cambridge: Icon Books, 1995.Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia. Deluxe Edition. CD-ROM. Washington, 1993-1996.