Prof Stephen Hawking: man faces nuclear armageddon and must colonise space

By Matthew Holehouse

“It is possible that the human race could become extinct but it is not
inevitable. I think it is almost certain that a disaster, such as
nuclear war or global warming, will befall the earth within a
thousands years,” Professor Hawking, the Cambridge University
cosmologist and theoretical physicist said.

“It is essential that we colonise space. I believe that we will
eventually establish self-sustaining colonies on Mars, and other
bodies in the solar system, although probably not within the next 100
years.

“I am optimistic that progress within science and technology will
eventually allow humans to spread beyond the solar system and out into
the far-reaches of the universe,” he said.

Professor Hawking was answering questions submitted by listeners to
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to mark his seventieth birthday.

But if man should meet alien life on its journey into space, the
consequences for humanity could be grave, Prof Hawking warned.

“The discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe would be
the greatest scientific discovery ever. But it would be very risky to
attempt to communicate with an alien civilisation.

“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.”

He said did not believe the results of the CERN experiments which
appeared to show particles travelling faster than the speed of light –
in defiance of the known laws of physics.

“Einstein’s theory of relativity predicts that nothing can travel
faster than the speed of light. Thus 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 SN 1987A.”

Bursts of neutrinos detected in 1987 from that stellar explosion
suggested neutrinos travel at the same speed of light. If CERN’s
experiment is correct, they would have been detected on earth years
before the light from the explosion was seen on earth, physicists
believe. Instead, they arrived within hours of one another.

A listener from Lagos asked Hawking, Britain’s most celebrated
physicist, whether there “was a time when there was nothing”.

“The origin of the universe can be explained by the laws of physics,
without any need for miracles or divine intervention,” replied the
professor, who uses a speech synthesizer due to his debilitating Motor
Neurone Disease.

“These laws predict that the universe was spontaneously created out of
nothing in a rapidly expanding state. It’s called inflation, because
it’s like the way prices go up at an ever increasing rate. Time is
defined only with the universe, so it makes no sense to talk about the
time before the universe began. It would be like asking for a point
south of the south pole.”

8:48AM GMT 06 Jan 2012