After a dispute, Stephen Hawking agreed with our new theory, recollects astrophysicist Pankaj Joshi

Mar 15, 2018, 10:50 IST | Gaurav Sarkar

Astrophysicist Pankaj Joshi recollects his collaboration with Stephen Hawking, who passed away yesterday

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking has left behind a gaping black hole in the hearts of his students, colleagues and admirers. One of them is Pankaj Joshi, 64, senior professor of the theoretical astrophysics group at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, who worked briefly under one of the world's most brilliant minds.

"In '76, Hawking had just presented his new theory on Black Holes; he had formulated a hypothesis that massive stars, when they exhaust their nuclear fuels inside and consequently collapse, become black holes," he recalls. "I was 26 at the time and got in touch with him. We corresponded through letters before he offered me a Cambridge fellowship around 1980." Joshi spent four months with the genius.

Conversations by the river
"During the time we spent together, we shared personal experiences and had numerous scientific discussions. We used to go for lunch by the river Cam, where we discussed black holes and the cosmos; where the cosmos came from and where it will go. Hawking had suggested that all stars will become black holes after they die, but our group had worked and researched a lot in the following years and stated that stars could also become fireballs and explode rather than become Black Holes. This is known as a naked singularity."

Pankaj Joshi
Pankaj Joshi

Brief dispute
This caused some friction between the two. "At that time he didn't agree at all with our theory but, sometime around 1999 he actually came forward and agreed that stars could become naked singularities, which meant that the Black Hole theory had to be revised." The last time Joshi and Hawking met was in 2001 in Mumbai as part of the Strings conference, the last time Stephen Hawking visited the country. Recalling Hawking as a human being, Joshi said, "It was as if his body and mind were disconnected and were different entities — his mind was soaring in the cosmos."

Last words - "Despite our brief disagreement, nothing will ever take away my respect for him. He is my guru — there is no question about that," Joshi said.

22 - Age at which Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease

Also read: Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking passes away at the age of 76

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