Physicist Stephen Hawking may have never been able to encounter the subject of his life’s work, a black hole, but sometime in the far future his words will: The BBC reports that after his ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey Friday, a message from the cosmologist and science communicator was broadcast toward 1A 0620-00, the nearest black hole.
The message from Hawking is accompanied by a musical piece written by Greek composer Vangelis, best known for the Oscar-winning score to the film Chariots of Fire and was broadcast by a European Space Agency satellite dish in Cebreros, Spain. CNN reports the piece is about six and a half minutes long with Hawking’s voiceover in the middle. Traveling at the speed of light, it will take 3,500 years for the message to reach the black hole, which is part of a binary system with an ordinary orange dwarf star.
“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," Hawking’s daughter Lucy says in a statement, reports the AFP. “It is a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet.”
Hawking, who died in March at the age of 76, suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), which robbed him of the ability to walk and speak. Though he was not expected to live past his twenties, he spent the next 50 years studying the mystery of black holes and communicating the ideas emerging in physics and astronomy to the public in his bestselling books A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design, On the Shoulders of Giants, and others.
While having your voice beamed into the cosmos is a pretty high honor, Stephen Castle at The New York Times reports that being buried in Westminster Abbey is about the highest Earthly honor out there. Roughly 3,300 extraordinary British citizens are buried or commemorated in the Abbey, including 17 monarchs, writers like Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens, and Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, between whom Hawking now rests.
CNN reports that besides friends and colleagues who attended the service in the Abbey, a lottery was held for 1,000 public tickets, which 25,000 people from 100 countries applied for. Tribute speeches and readings were given by Nobel prize winner Kip Thorne, paralyzed disability advocate Tom Nabarro, British astronaut Tim Peake, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in the BBC film Hawking, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, and Lucy Hawking. Three young people who, like Hawking, use a voice synthesizer to speak, were also invited to the ceremony.
While Hawking was not a fan of religion, that did not stop his ashes from being buried in the church, a decision made solely by John R. Hall, Dean of Westminster, reports Castle. “Whether he was actually an atheist, whether he was actually an agnostic, what his position was, is not, to my mind, entirely clear,” said Dr. Hall. “My position is quite simply this: Whether a person believes in God or not, if someone is achieving extraordinary things then I believe God is in that process.”
Hawking may have also had mixed feelings about beaming a message out into space for every alien in the galaxy to hear. While he strongly supported efforts to search for signs of intelligent life in the cosmos, like the Breakthrough Listen initiative, he also warned that leading other civilizations in our direction might be bad news. “A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us,” he said in 2015. “If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”
Hopefully Vangelis’ music will calm down any aliens who listen to Hawking's message before they decide to destroy our planet by mining for dilithium crystals.