Millions mourn loss of a giant who changed humanity's view of cosmos

Sand artist Sudarsan Patnaik giving final touches to a sculpture at India's Puri Beach yesterday in honour of British cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who died at the age of 76 yesterday.
Sand artist Sudarsan Patnaik giving final touches to a sculpture at India's Puri Beach yesterday in honour of British cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who died at the age of 76 yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Scientists, stars and millions around the world paid tribute to the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who died at the age of 76 yesterday.

Although in a wheelchair for most of his life, he looked to the stars and changed the way that humans see the universe with his scientific discoveries on black holes and the origins of the universe.

Said Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam: "Few have done more to expand our knowledge of the universe, and to instil faith in human willpower and ability to overcome physical challenge. Stephen Hawking will live on, well beyond his brief time in history."

Professor Hawking's 1988 bestseller, A Brief History Of Time, sold more than 10 million copies.

Astronaut Tim Peake, a fellow Briton, said that Prof Hawking "inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe".

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Prof Hawking's theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that they and the world were still exploring.

"May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on the Space Station in 2014," it added on Twitter.

He was one of the great scientists of his generation, said British Prime Minister Theresa May, who paid tribute to his "brilliant and extraordinary mind" in a tweet.

"His courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration. His legacy will not be forgotten," she added.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "You changed the way we see the universe."

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, tweeted: "We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit.

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who played Prof Hawking in the 2014 biopic, The Theory Of Everything, said: "We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet."

In China, millions mourned "the falling of a giant star" and bid farewell to a man admired for stoically rising above physical disability and posting heartfelt messages to his Chinese fans on social media.

Already well known in China, the British cosmologist two years ago further endeared himself to fans in the country when he opened an account on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, posting in both Chinese and English, reported Xinhua.

The account garnered one million fans within its first few hours and now has nearly five million, with his infrequent posts typically generating tens of thousands of admiring comments.

On Weibo, the hashtag #Hawking passed# generated more than 300 million reads and nearly 200,000 comments within a few hours after his death was announced.

Prof Hawking had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neuron disease. Said one user: "The deterioration of his body did not trap him. Today this superhuman brain has left this world, and his next journey, death, remains a mystery."

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad wrote on Facebook: "In his limitations, Stephen Hawking has opened up the universe to all of us with his scientific findings. He inspires me to live a life of no excuses - and that is my theory of everything."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Millions mourn loss of a giant who changed humanity's view of cosmos'. Print Edition | Subscribe