Homages to Stephen Hawking in Latin America's Media Show How Mourning for the Scientist Transcends Borders

Stephen Hawking. Image shared on Flickr by user Lwp Kommunikáció, used under license of CC BY 2.0.

News of Stephen Hawking's death, announced on 14 March 2018, caused sorrow throughout the world, and Latin America was no exception.

Hawking, 76, was known in the scientific community for his advanced theories on the radiation emitted from black holes, as well as for his studies into the origins of the universe and the Big Bang theory.

However, the British theoretical physicist and cosmologist had achieved fame among the public too, through his efforts to bring science to a more generalized audience and raise awareness about various, often little understood, phenomena. These include advances in artificial intelligence and the survival of the human race.

Hawking also dealt with what some would regard as highly controversial subjects, such as the existence of a divine being in the context of the creation of the universe.

The Spanish-language website Sopitas published the news like this, using an interesting wink at the possible existence of parallel universes:

No sabemos si en otros universos, pero al menos en éste, ayer el gran Stephen Hawking murió y, con la triste noticia millones de internautas salieron a expresar su admiración por tan genial personaje… y cuando decimos genial, no sólo hacemos referencia a su presencia y personalidad, sino a su trabajo como astrofísico que, incluso para quienes poco/nada saben de ciencia, no deja de parecer fascinante.

We don't know about other universes, but in this one at least, the great Stephen Hawking died yesterday. With this sad news, millions of internet users came out to express their admiration for such an amazing person. When we say amazing, we are not just referring to his presence and his personality, but also his work as an astrophysicist that never failed to fascinate, even those who know little or nothing about science.

On another note, Raúl Morales put his reaction to Hawking's death in this way on a Spanish-language site dedicated to climbing, mountaineering and other sports:

El físico y divulgador británico falleció […] después de más de medio siglo superando el pronóstico que daba la enfermedad que le aquejaba, y llevando a la humanidad varios pasos adelante en la exploración mayor a la que aspiramos: aquella que describe la realidad misma.

Si para descubrir cumbres empleamos la escalada, lo mismo que la espeleología para adentrarnos en cuevas, para explorar el universo utilizamos la ciencia, que no es más que la sistematización racional del mismo espíritu humano que nos hace cruzar un río o ir a ver qué hay detrás del cerro. Y sus practicantes son, al igual que un montañista, exploradores, pero de cumbres distintas, cumbres que, con frecuencia no se encuentran en nuestro planeta o, en el caso de Stephen Hawking, ni siquiera en nuestro espacio-tiempo.

The British physicist and scientific figure died […] after over half a century outliving his prognosis for the illness he suffered from, and taking humanity forward toward the most important discovery to which we aspire: that which explains reality itself.

If we climb to reach a summit, go caving to discover the caves, then we use science to explore the universe, which is no more than the rational systemization of this same human spirit which makes us cross a river, or go see what is on the other side of the mountain. This work is like that of a mountaineer, an explorer, but of different summits, summits which we don't often find on our planet or, in the case of Stephen Hawking, not even within our spacetime.

In a piece entitled “Stephen Hawking's laboratory was the universe”, which appeared on a Puerto Rican newspaper called El Nuevo Día, the complexity of Hawking's theories was described like this:

Todo el mundo conocía la brillantez cósmica de Stephen Hawking, pero pocos podían comprenderla. Ni siquiera astrónomos de primera línea.

Everybody knew about Stephen Hawking's cosmic brilliance, but few understood it. Not even first-class astronomers.

Furthermore, on the same site they created a compilation of some of Hawking's famous phrases, including this one:

Si los extraterrestres nos visitan alguna vez, creo que el resultado sería parecido a cuando Cristóbal Colón llegó por primera vez a América, lo que no salió muy bien para los nativos americanos.

If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans

On Twitter, users reacted like this:

We have lost one of the most brilliant scientists humanity has ever seen, comparable perhaps only to Sir Isaac Newton. Rest in peace Stephen #Hawking

Mexican news presenter Carmen Aristegui remembered when Hawking played himself in American TV show “The Big Bang Theory,” quoting one of the lead actresses Kaley Cuoco:

“He made us laugh and we made him laugh. His life and career workings have been many a subject matter on The Big Bang Theory and we are all better for it.”

Twitter user Isma shared the following curious piece of information:

Hawking died on 14 March: Day of Pi (π) and Einstein's birthday. Also one day off the anniversary of the discovery of Uranus.

Hawking, science's brightest star, was recognised in his lifetime with numerous awards. Among others, the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University (a position which Sir Isaac Newton had in his time) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded by Barack Obama in 2009), the highest civilian decoration awarded in the United States. The medal has also been awarded to other scientists, such as Mexican chemist Mario J. Molina, who received it in 2013.

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