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Arguably, no other scientist in our current era has touched the public imagination as much as Stephen Hawking did. Beginning with his foundational work on the nature of black holes in the 1960s and 1970s, his ideas have left their mark on generations of physicists and cosmologists. And despite a progressively debilitating illness, for decades he continued to produce research, travel to conferences and communicate science to the public. This special collection is Nature’s modest tribute to Stephen Hawking the man, and the legend.
It is often said that nothing can escape from a black hole. But in 1974, Stephen Hawking realized that, owing to quantum effects, black holes should emit particles with a thermal distribution of energies — as if the black hole had a temperature inversely proportional to its mass. In addition to putting black-hole thermodynamics on a firmer footing, this discovery led Hawking to postulate 'black hole explosions', as primordial black holes end their lives in an accelerating release of energy.