When Stephen Hawking was given a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease at age 21, he was expected to live only a few years. On Sunday, he turned 70.
Famous for his work on black holes, he has been one of the world’s greatest physicists despite devastating physical decline: Paralyzed from the neck down by 1970, he lost the ability to speak in 1985. He now communicates using software that translates the twitching of a muscle in his cheek into words. One sentence can take 10 minutes.
As one of the events surrounding his birthday, he gave a rare interview to New Scientist magazine. Most of it is well over the average reader’s head: The most exciting physics development in his time, he said, was the “discovery of tiny variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background . . . in excellent agreement with the predictions of inflation.” (This, New Scientist explains, supports the big bang theory.)
But the interview’s final exchange was quite clear:
Q: What do you think about most during the day?
A: Women. They are a complete mystery.
Not too complete, apparently. Hawking has been married twice and has three children.
It’s not too often that anybody gets to glimpse an interplanetary space probe in transit. But astronomer Thierry Legault recently managed to capture footage of the Phobos-Grunt Mars lander midflight. You can see a clip of his film on Discovery magazine’s “Bad Astronomy” blog. The image, recorded through a telescope, is foggy, but if you squint a little you can make out the details (solar panels, main body, etc.). How did he manage? The spacecraft didn’t go very far. When Russia launched the probe back in November, its booster failed to fire, leaving the craft marooned in low-Earth orbit. It’s even visible with the naked eye. Not for long, though. By mid-January, the lander will make a not-so-gentle descent into Earth’s atmosphere and, most likely, burn up. But until then, it’s a rare opportunity to catch an interplanetary spacecraft on cruise control.