28 June 2009: When Stephen Hawking held a party for time travellers
On this day in 2009, British astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking held an invitation-only party. The physics genius - who died in 2018 aged 76 - arranged for balloons, champagne, and nibbles for his guests, but didn’t send out the invites until after the party was over.
“You are cordially invited to a reception for Time Travelers,” Hawking’s invite read. In the invitation, Hawking gave the date, time and GPS location of when and where the party had taken place.
Held in the University of Cambridge, Hawking waited diligently for the time traveller partiers he was yet to invite to arrive. Sadly, despite his best efforts, no one turned up.
“I have experimental evidence that time travel is not possible,” Hawking said of the event.
Yet, Hawking was undeterred, leaving the door open for his invite to be taken up. “I am hoping copies of it, in one form or another, will survive for many thousands of years. Maybe one day someone living in the future will find the information and use a wormhole time machine to come back to my party, proving that time travel will one day be possible.”
Hawking was quite a natural host for a time travel party. He made his name in academia through his research on black holes and work to unify the fields of quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity. With his best-selling non-fiction book ‘A Brief History of Time’, he was pushed into the limelight as one of the world’s leading minds in physics.
The effect of motor-neurone disease on Hawking also increased his celebrity. Despite a dire initial prognosis that he would die young, Hawking lived into his 70s, continuing to communicate his ideas without allowing paralysis to get in his way. His life was dramatised in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything where Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking.
Why did no one turn up to Hawking’s time traveller party? Despite being one of the most famous names in physics in the early 21st century, it’s possible that it's still too long before time travel is invented for anyone to be aware of the scientist’s invitation. Maybe time travellers are aware of Hawking’s invitation and still refused to come.
Whether that’s because they’re obeying a time travel rule or just that Hawking’s party didn’t sound fun enough, we’ll likely never know. However, Hawking did give the idea one final try.
For the physicist’s memorial service in 2018, anyone was allowed to apply to attend via an online ballot. People quickly noticed though that the ballot allowed entries from guests who had been born up to the year 2038.
12,000 people from more than 50 countries applied to attend the memorial, but as far as we’re aware, none were born after the date Hawking died.