Hawking: Earth will die, but humans will escape into space
Stephen Hawking talks aliens, other universes and proving Einstein wrong in a 70th birthday Q&A
STEPHEN HAWKING has cast doubt on humankind's chances of avoiding global catastrophe but expressed optimism about its prospects for colonising space in a Q&A session held to celebrate the professor's 70th birthday.
The questions were put to Hawking, the world's most famous living physicist, by users of BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
He seemed conflicted on the subject of extra-terrestrial life, saying that proving its existence would be the greatest scientific discovery of all time, but that engaging with it might well have a terrible outcome for the human race.
Q. Was there a 'time' when there was 'nothing'?
A. It makes no sense to talk about time before the universe began, it would be like asking for a point south of the South Pole.
Q. What will be the impact on Einstein's theory of relativity if the neutrino is confirmed to be able to travel faster than the speed of light?
A. If the Opera experiment is correct, and neutrinos do travel faster than light, then relativity theory is wrong. However, I don't believe the Opera results, because they disagree with the detection of neutrinos from supernova SN1987A.
Q. Some people hypothesise that what we call the universe may only be one of many. Is there any conceivable way that we could ever detect them?
A. Our best bet for a theory of everything is M-theory. One prediction of M-theory is that there are many different universes, with different values for the physical constants.
One way of testing this would be to look for features in the cosmic microwave background radiation which would indicate the collision of another universe with ours in the distant past.
Q. Do you think the human race will survive all potential disasters and eventually colonise the stars?
A. I think it is almost certain that a disaster such as nuclear war or global warming will befall the Earth within a thousand years. It is essential that we colonise space.
I am optimistic that progress in science and technology will eventually enable humans to spread beyond the Solar System and out into the far reaches of the Universe.
Q. What do you think the impact will be on mankind if Kepler 22b does indeed support life?
A. If aliens decided to visit us then the outcome might be similar to when Europeans arrived in the Americas. That did not turn out well for the Native Americans.