The idea is controversial, although many scientists believe that the universe works in a perpetual cycle in which it is expanding, before it shrinks again in a “great crisis” followed by a new big explosion.

Sir Roger said that black holes were also once controversial. The theory was first developed by the English priest John Mitchell in 1783, who speculated that if an object became too dense, its enormous gravity would stop even the light from escaping.

But even Albert Einstein dismissed it as a mathematical curiosity, not a physical fact.

It wasn’t until 1964, nine years after Einstein’s death, that Sir Roger suggested that black holes are an inevitable consequence of general relativity.

Sir Roger demonstrated that when bodies become extremely dense they experience a collapse of gravity to an infinite point of mass where all known laws of nature cease to exist, called singularities.

His groundbreaking article is still considered the most important contribution to relativity since Einstein, and the mounting evidence for the Big Bang.

Sir Roger was in his mid-30s when he first stumbled upon the idea when he was walking to a London Underground station on his way to Birkbeck College. Now, 56 years later, he is finally honored for his work by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“I think it’s a bad thing to get a Nobel Prize too soon. I know scientists who got their award too early and ruined their science.”

“If you are going to get a Nobel Prize in Science, it is a good idea to get it when you are good and old, before you fully applaud, when there is still something to be done, this is my advice.

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“This goes back to 1964, but it took a long time for the importance of black holes to realize, so that’s not surprising, and I think I’m bigger than that now.”

Sir Roger took this honor along with Professors Reinhard Gerzel of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, and Andrea Geese of the University of California, who demonstrated the existence of a supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way, by studying its effect on the stars around it.

Commenting on the award, Professor Martin Rees, Royal Astronomer and Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, said it was sad that Professor Hawking was not alive to share the award.

“Penrose is amazingly authentic and innovative, and has contributed creative insights for more than 60 years.

“I think there will be a consensus that Penrose and Hawking are the two people who have done more than anyone since Einstein to deepen our knowledge of gravity.

“Unfortunately, this award was too late to allow Hawking to share the credit with Penrose.”

Professor Hawking answered some of the biggest questions facing humanity in 2018, below: