Stephen Hawking’s final paper is an astounding farewell

Ten days before he died, Stephen Hawking published a final paper with a way to prove or disprove the multiverse.

Stephen Hawking and his final paper
Stephen Hawking, and part of the formula in his final paper.

Stephen Hawking will never know if there really are multiple universes, but he’s left behind a hell of a parting shot: a test that could prove or disprove their existence. On March 4, a mere 10 days before he died, the theoretical physicist signed off on the final corrections for one last paper, "A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation.” It proposes a data-collection mission for a deep-space probe, and it lays out the math for discerning the telltale signs of a multiverse in its data. How thrilling would it be if Hawking's final formula answers one of his most provocative questions?


The paper is still under review by a “leading journal,” according to The Times, and hasn’t been published yet. It was co-authored by theoretical physicist Thomas Hertog of KU Leuven University in Belgium. Work on the paper concluded at Hawking’s deathbed, says The Times.

Hawking first arrived at the idea of multiple universes—or the multiverse—back in 1983 with the “no-boundary” theory he developed with James Hartle. Uncomfortably for Hawking, the theory predicted an infinite number of Big Bangs occurring one after the other, with each expanding from a tiny point into a full-blown universe through the process of inflation.


Universe bubbles during inflation (Image: sakkmesterke)

However, with us stuck in our universe, and other universes imperceptible to us from here, Hawking had long been frustrated by the inability to confirm or refute the multiverse.

The new paper was Hawking’s final attempt to address that experimentally. Says Hertog, “We wanted to transform the idea of a multiverse into a testable scientific framework.” Their paper asserts that evidence for multiple universes should be contained in background radiation from the beginning of time and that it should be measurable using the pair’s new equations once a deep-space probe has made certain measurements.


Hertog previews the paper at Cambridge (Image: GraduatePhysics)

“The intriguing idea in Hawking’s paper is that the multiverse left its imprint on the background radiation permeating our universe and we could measure it with a detector on a spaceship,” Carlos Frenck of Durham University tells The Times. “These ideas offer the breathtaking prospect of finding evidence for the existence of other universes. This would profoundly change our perception of our place in the cosmos.” He adds that there would be only one logical name for such a probe: “The Hawking Cosmic Probe, of course.”

Leave it to Hawking to blow our minds one final, spectacular time.

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists: Gamma-ray jets exceed the speed of light

Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.

An artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar.

Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab (used with permission by Astronomy Picture of the Day, which is co-managed by Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Tech).
Surprising Science
  • Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
  • The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
  • The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists find the "magic number" that links forces of the universe

Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.

The Universe and the fine-structure constant.

Credit: Adobe
Surprising Science
  • A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
  • This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
  • The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
Keep reading Show less

A new system separates oxygen and hydrogen from Mars’ water

Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.

Illustration of Mars' long-gone Jezero Lake

Technology & Innovation
  • Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
  • Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
  • The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

How officials will ensure the COVID-19 vaccine stays cold enough in transit

Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast