As Hawking’s ashes are being interred between the graves of Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton at a memorial service Friday at Westminster Abbey, an antenna in Spain will beam his voice out into space, toward a black hole.
Hawking, who spent much of his life researching black holes, died in March at age 76 after battling motor neurone disease.
Greek composer Vangelis — yes, the “Chariots of Fire” guy — set the physicist’s voice to an original piece of music for the occasion. It’s meant to send a message of peace and hope, Hawking’s family said in a statement.
Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser for science and exploration at the European Space Agency, told CNN the musical piece is about six and a half minutes, with a voiceover by Hawking in the middle. He said it’s pretty somber and is about considering the Earth as a place people come from and need to look after.
Scientists will use the Cebreros antenna to send it toward 1A 0620-00, the nearest known black hole — some 3,500 light years from Earth. It’s one of the most famous black holes in the universe, McCaughrean said.
It’ll take about 35 minutes to send the music into space. After the ceremony, the music will be played at a reception for people in attendance. Every person at the ceremony will receive a CD with the piece of music, and at a later date it’ll be released to the public.
“It’s a nice story overall, and we’re very honored to have been asked to do this,” McCaughrean said. “Hawking is a highly influential scientist and public figure. This is a lovely, beautiful, symbolic gesture.”
Hawking’s family loves the idea
Hawking’s family is thankful for the memorial service — and that his voice will travel to space.
“We are so grateful to Westminster Abbey for offering us the privilege of a Service of Thanksgiving for the extraordinary life of our father and for giving him such a distinguished final resting place,” Hawking’s children said in a statement.
“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,” Stephen Hawking’s daughter, Lucy Hawking, said.
A public lottery decided which 1,000 members of the public will join the Hawking family and their guests — including actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in a BBC film — at the service. Around 25,000 people applied for tickets.
The recording will become locked just outside the black hole — but black holes don’t last forever, McCaughrean said. They evaporate over billions and billions of years by emitting Hawking radiation — named for the late physicist, of course.
“It’s his own radiation, which will actually cause it to disappear in the end,” McCaughrean said.