By Sally Morem
What is the nature of time? On May 16, 1989, the world-renown physicist Stephen W. Hawking discussed some of the ways science addresses this question in Northrup Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota. He came up with some astonishing and thought-provoking concepts. Isaac Newton believed that time and space were completely separate concepts. Then, Albert Einstein showed that space and time were integral parts of one thing: space-time. Space-time is a collection of all events in our universe
past, present and future.
flat as most early cosmologists supposed. Space-time is distorted by the presence of matter and energy. Hawking made his mark in physics by thinking deeply about the implications of the existence of black holes - stars crushed out of existence by their own great mass, leaving only an incredibly steep gravitational well. At the center of a black hole is a singularity,
which Hawking defined as “a place where space and time come to an end.”
showed that small black holes don’t
hey “leak” radiation over a period of time until
a final burst of radiation eliminates the singularity. Hawking wondered if the singularity in a black hole resembled the singularity that theory says the Big Bang and our universe emerged from billions of years ago. He studied this problem until it became clear that any true understanding of the early universe had to
wait until quantum theory was joined to Einstein’s general relativity.
General relativity does not fully integrate space and time into one system. Unlike space, time is not reversible. It is line-like (unlike space, which is three-dimensional). You cannot travel backwards in time as you can in space.