Famed physicist Stephen Hawking’s ashes were interred among the greats of British science at Westminster Abbey today — and to mark his passing, his message of peace and hope was beamed to the nearest known black hole.
Black holes were a favorite subject for the theorist, who died in March at the age of 76 after dealing with progressive disability for decades. His memorial stone on the abbey’s floor, which is sure to become the site of scientific pilgrimages for decades to come, is engraved with the outlines of a black hole as well as an equation that describes a black hole’s Hawking radiation.
Today’s memorial ceremony was anything but dark. Nobel-winning scientists and Oscar-winning celebrities joined Hawking’s family and more than 1,000 others to pay tribute to the physicist.
Among those delivering readings were actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrayed Hawking in a 2004 docudrama focusing on his early years; Tim Peake, the first astronaut to represent Britain on the International Space Station; and Caltech physicist Kip Thorne, who once won a black-hole bet with Hawking and went on to win a Nobel Prize last year for his work on gravitational waves.
Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, noted that Hawking’s mortal remains will lie beside those of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
“Stephen described his own scientific quest as ‘learning the mind of God,’ but this was a metaphor. He shared Darwin’s agnosticism, but it’s fitting that he too should be interred in this national shrine,” Rees said.
“His name will live in the annals of science. Nobody else since Einstein has done more to deepen our understanding of space, time and gravity,” Rees said. “Millions have had their horizons widened by his books and lectures, and even more worldwide have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds.”
After the ceremony, a radio antenna in Spain beamed a recorded message from Hawking, set to music by Vangelis, in the direction of a black hole about 3,300 light-years from Earth.
“It is a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet,” Lucy Hawking, the late physicist’s daughter, said 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.”
Check Westminster Abbey’s website and Twitter account for video, audio and pictures from the service, as well as a PDF version of the memorial program.