Galileo, Einstein, and Hawking – Tied Together by More than Physics

Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14, 2018, leaving behind a legacy of works that rivals the greatest in history, including Galileo Galilei and Albert Einstein. However, this is not the only thing these three men had in common – they also shared remarkable coincidences about the times the each entered and left this world, as well as how they affected the world.

Hawking was born January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England, although his parents lived in London at the time. His family chose to deliver Stephen in Oxford, which was considered safer than London as the Second World War tore through Europe. Coincidentally, the day Stephen was born marked the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo Galilei, who passed away on that day in 1642.

“When he was eight his family moved to St. Albans, a town about 20 miles north of London. At the age of eleven, Stephen went to St. Albans School and then on to University College, Oxford (1952); his father’s old college. Stephen wanted to study mathematics although his father would have preferred medicine. Mathematics was not available at University College, so he pursued physics instead,” reports the official Stephen Hawking web site.

Galileo, Stephen Hawking, and Albert Einstein.
Galileo, Stephen Hawking, and Albert Einstein shared a lot more in common than just physics. Image collage by Maynard Modern Media.

Albert Einstein first made his appearance in the world on March 14, 1879, precisely 139 years before Hawking would leave this life. The mind behind relativity passed away at 76 years of age, the same number of years Hawking was alive. Even Galileo had nearly the same lifespan, making it to age 77.

These three giants of physics each made unique, durable impacts on how we, as people, understand the Cosmos around us. Each of these researchers tried their best to comprehend the Universe at the most basic levels. However, they each had some differences in the way they perceived the world.

Science is mainly advanced through two main branches of research – theoretical and observational. Some scientists, like Hawking and Einstein, are theoreticians, preferring to uncover the rules of the Universe through the application of mathematics and laws of physics. However, Galileo was an experimentalist, finding out whatever he could by observation and measurement.

Contrary to popular belief, Galileo did not invent the telescope, although he did improve the design of early instruments.

“In January of 1610 he discovered four new ‘stars’ orbiting Jupiter—the planet’s four largest moons. He quickly published a short treatise outlining his discoveries, Siderius Nuncius (The Starry Messenger), which also contained observations of the moon’s surface and descriptions of a multitude of new stars in the Milky Way,” the History Channel wrote.

This discovery would go on to be a vital piece of evidence in favor of a sun-centered solar system, an idea popularized in a 1543 work by Nicholas Copernicus.

Einstein used his enormous talents with mathematics and physics to uncover secrets about the Universe scientists would not confirm by experiment until decades later. However, the most famous theoretician of them all spent the night of January 29,1931 studying the Universe through the 100-inch telescope on Mount Wilson, guided by the famed astronomer Edwin Hubble. Sixteen years earlier, Einstein predicted an expanding Universe in general relativity, but he believed his equations were in error. Hubble (together with Milton Humason), showed Einstein the physical, observational proof that he had been correct all along. This was a perfect example of how well science performs when theoreticians and experimentalists work together.

For science to flourish, theories and discoveries also need to be disseminated to the general public. If this does not happen, examination is stifled, and its adherents ridiculed, a fate that befell both Ancient Greece and the ancient Library of Alexandria. A few people today are attempting to spread the light of science among those who care to listen – people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, and Bill Nye.

From 1633 to the day he died, Galileo was subjected to house arrest for attempting to spread the news of what he saw through his telescope to the world. With his explosive rise to the elite of the scientific world in 1905, his fun-loving attitude and wacky hair, Albert Einstein may be the best-known name in science. Hawking spent the last years of his life attempting to bring an understanding of the Universe to the world. To do so, he even made appearances on The Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Perhaps this desire to popularize science is the greatest legacy of Stephen Hawking, the last of the great trio of astrophysicists.


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