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Supercomputer to probe deepest questions of existence

May 30, 1997
Web posted at: 2:59 p.m. EDT (1859 GMT)

From Correspondent Siobhan Darrow

CAMBRIDGE, England (CNN) -- The heavens have captivated mankind since the beginning of recorded time, but much remains unknown about them. Now scientists may have found a way to possibly unlock the universe's most profound mysteries, even the very origins of life.

The cosmos will now be studied by a supercomputer known as Cosmos.

The machine is owned by a group of British cosmologists, headed by Dr. Stephen Hawking, who is said to have one of the greatest minds since Albert Einstein.

Hawking may be confined to a wheelchair, but his imagination seems to know no bounds. And just as a computer makes it possible for him to speak, so now it will make it possible for him to test his theories.

"Hopefully, when we understand how the universe began, it will give us a clue as to why it began the way it did, or even why it began at all," he said.

Dr. Stephen Hawking


"I think everyone wants to know where we came from ... "
(230 K / 20 sec. audio)

"My illness has made very little difference to my scientific work ... "
(238 K / 21 sec. audio)

Pictures from the Hubble spacecraft and other satellites have given scientists glimpses of cosmic fossils, a look at the universe at a fraction of its age. The supercomputer can use those pictures to create models of the universe, and test theories about its creation and structure.

Hawking says Cosmos can give results in days that would have taken weeks or months.

Professor Neil Turok of Cambridge University claims that within a decade Cosmos could provide a definitive theory of the universe's structure. Now, he says, is cosmology's golden age of discovery.


"If we can understand where the galaxy came from, than we can understand where the stars came from, where planets came from and we can form a basis for other sciences," he said.

Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease more than 30 years ago, Hawking is one of the longest survivors of that illness. In many ways, he may be in a personal race against time. But if he's worried about his longevity, he doesn't let on, saying his illness has had little effect on his work.

"(Theoretical physics) is mainly pure thought, for which my physical disability is no handicap," he said. "I may be mentally disabled as well, but if so, I'm too far gone to realize," he said.

And then he grinned.

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