Now you can fall into a black hole with Stephen Hawking

World

Now you can fall into a black hole with Stephen Hawking

A new virtual reality experience will allow people to travel across the universe with the legendary physicist

Sarah Knapton


Tumbling into a black hole with Stephen Hawking might seem the stuff of nightmares, but it is soon to become reality. Well, virtually at least.
In the year before his death, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist began work on a groundbreaking project to digitally recreate the universe, allowing the cosmically curious to don a headset and glide over galaxies, bump through asteroid belts and witness the birth of stars.
As his final legacy, Hawking recorded hours of commentary to be played alongside the experience, so that he could personally inspire a new generation of space scientists.
The project is being overseen by Anthony Geffen, the Bafta-award winning filmmaker whose previous virtual reality productions have included resurrecting dinosaurs at London’s Natural History Museum so they could interact with Sir David Attenborough.
Launching the experience at London’s Science Museum, Geffen, the chief executive of Atlantic Productions, said: “This will allow you to travel through Stephen’s mind. It really will be like going on a personal experience with him across the universe.
“We built the journey together before his death. We talked it through and the he added a voice-over. So it was made in his lifetime, but to build something as ambitious as an immersive experience takes a long time.
“He was terribly excited about new technology and about when he was no longer here being able to take people on a personal journey.”
Hawking, who was given just two years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease at the age of 22, defied all expectations to become a father of three, a bestselling author and a groundbreaking scientist.
His proposal that black holes could lose energy and evaporate by sending out “Hawking radiation” changed how physicists viewed the universe. If his theory had been observed in his lifetime he would almost certainly have won a Nobel Prize.
He died in March 2018 at 76 and is buried between Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.
The first stage of the new VR experience will allow people to fall into a black hole, but eventually it will be a wide-ranging “choose-your-own adventure” in which users zip around the universe with Hawking as their guide.
He recorded multiple journeys before his death and Geffen is now working with experts including American theoretical physicist Kip Thorne to make sure the science is as accurate as possible. Tim Hawking, the late scientist’s son, said: “I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some of the first work that’s been done on the VR experience and it’s absolutely extraordinary to me.
“Actually I went on a black hole rollercoaster with my father when I was 12 at Alton Towers and he was thrilled at the time that he had been into a black hole. But that’s nothing compared to this new experience.”
Hawking senior was adamant that the show should not be confined to museums, but put into pods and taken out into shopping centres so that as many people as possible could witness the beauty of the universe.
“We are going to deliver it in giant pods or domes which can go almost anywhere,” added Geffen. “We’re making it very accessible to people.”
In 2017, Geffen created the “Space Descent” virtual reality experience which allowed users to journey down to Earth from the International Space Station with British astronaut Tim Peake.
Hawking’s daughter Lucy said her father had always been impressed with how virtual reality to could appeal to young people.
“Virtual reality was really important to him because he wanted young people to engage with his work,” she said.
“Many young people think physics it too complex, they don’t have a way in, but this is a portal to that world which makes it interesting and engaging.
“This project takes us on a great big cosmic journey, to show the universe through my father’s eyes.”
The VR experience is due to be released in 2020. – © The Daily Telegraph

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