4 bizarre Stephen Hawking theories that turned out to be right (and 6 we’re not sure about)

Stephen Hawking was one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the modern age. Best known for his appearances in popular media and his lifelong battle against debilitating illness, his true impact on posterity comes from his brilliant five-decade career in science. Beginning with his doctoral thesis in 1966, his groundbreaking work continued nonstop right up to his final paper in 2018, completed just days before his death at the age of 76.

Hawking worked at the intellectual cutting edge of physics, and his theories often seemed bizarrely far-out at the time he formulated them. Yet they’re slowly being accepted into the scientific mainstream, with new supporting evidence coming in all the time. From his mind-blowing views of black holes to his explanation for the universe’s humble beginnings, here are some of his theories that were vindicated … and some that are still up in the air.

The Big Bang wins

An illustration of the expanse of the universe – starting at the Big Bang around 13.8 billion years ago.  (Image credit: Getty Images )

Hawking got off to a flying start with his doctoral thesis, written at a critical time when there was heated debate between two rival cosmological theories: the Big Bang and the Steady State. Both theories accepted that the universe is expanding, but in the first it expands from an ultra-compact, super-dense state at a finite time in the past, while the second assumes the universe has been expanding forever, with new matter constantly being created to maintain a constant density. In his thesis, Hawking showed that the Steady State theory is mathematically self-contradictory. He argued instead that the universe began as an infinitely small, infinitely dense point called a singularity. Today, Hawking’s description  is almost universally accepted among scientists.

Black holes are real

The first image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope – released by the National Science Foundation in 2019.  (Image credit: Getty Images )

More than anything else, Hawking’s name is associated with black holes — another kind of singularity, formed when a star undergoes complete collapse under its own gravity. These mathematical curiosities arose from Einstein‘s theory of general relativity, and they had been debated for decades when Hawking turned his attention to them in the early 1970s. 

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