Stephen Hawking's favorite places in the universe (pictures)

The famed theoretical physicist touts cosmic hot spots from the black hole at the center of the Milky Way to Saturn's rings. And, of course, California.

Eric Mack
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All aboard the USS Hawking

Stephen Hawking plays cosmic tour guide traveling the universe in his custom CGI spaceship in the new online program "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places." We got a sneak peek at the itinerary and put together this selection of quick snapshots of spots across space and time the famed theoretical physicist would most like to visit.

The full half-hour program is available starting Thursday, September 22
on CuriosityStream, a subscription streaming service for science-themed programs.

Click through this gallery for the fastest tour of must-see locales from around the entire scope of existence.

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In the beginning...

On his journey through space and time on "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places," Hawking goes back to the beginning of it all to what he calls his "life's obsession": the Big Bang. Hawking muses that if time truly did begin with the Big Bang, nothing could have come before it. Thus, the Big Bang must have caused itself.

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When the lights came on

Hawking notes that while we tend to associate bright lights and fantastic flashes with explosions, the Big Bang was different. The lights didn't actually come on in the universe until about 380,000 years later. That first fantastic flash is still visible today, 13 billion years later, as what's called the Cosmic Microwave Background. In this image of the microwave sky taken by the Planck spacecraft, it can be seen as the temperature (color) variations near the top and bottom.

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Black hole

Black holes have been another focus of Hawking's over the years, so it's not surprising his tour of the cosmos also passes by Sagittarius A, the massive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. Hawking has puzzled for years about what happens to particles sucked through a black hole, and even lost a bet over the the topic with fellow famed cosmologist Kip Thorne.

He must not have had a chance to discover the answer in CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel "Crowd Control" just yet.

5 of 13 Efrain Morales Rivera, Astronomical Society of the Caribbean, PHL @ UPR Arecibo

Gliese 832c

When it comes to exoplanets, Hawking is most fascinated by Gliese 832c, a super-Earth just 16 light-years away that could be potentially habitable but probably has some pretty extreme seasons. Perhaps we'll one day find it to be the true home of Westeros?

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Another civilization

Hawking supports searching for signals from alien civilizations on exoplanets like Gliese 832c, but he's not so sure we should respond to any alien messages we might come across.

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Saturn's rings

One of Hawking's favorite planets in our solar system is Saturn, and he credits the gravity of our most blinged-out neighbor with helping to keep things in balance in our corner of the galaxy. On "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places," which starts streaming September 22, he takes his CGI spaceship down for a close look at the gas giant's famed rings.

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Ring racing

Hawking points out that Saturn's rings aren't as peaceful as they look, but are more like a 40,000 mile per hour Nascar free-for-all, with constant collisions between pieces of debris and impacts with larger objects like comets creating ripples in the rings themselves.

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While visiting Saturn and its rings, Hawking's hypothetical spaceship, the USS Hawking,
swings by the moon Enceladus, which has become best known for the plumes shooting water vapor and organic molecules up through its frozen surface from a hidden ocean beneath its icy shell.

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It should probably come as no surprise that the only planet in the universe Hawking has actually visited makes his itinerary. Of course Earth is one of Hawking's favorite places, because everything had to be just right for it to form the way it did. He notes that if gravity were just a little less strong, it's likely none of us would be here, including Earth itself.

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California dreamin'

So where on Earth is Hawking's favorite terrestrial spot? While he hails from Cambridge, England, there's no place Hawking would rather be than Santa Barbara, California with its picturesque beaches.

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Hangout for super smarties

If you want to get even more specific, one of Hawking's favorite places in Santa Barbara, California, is the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, where he can sometimes be found.

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Proxima b

Word came last month of the potentially habitable planet Proxima b orbiting the closest star to the sun. Presumably this news happened too recently for it to be included in "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places," but we're pretty sure it's worth adding to the list. Earlier this year, Hawking launched Breakthrough: Starshot, an initiative that now hopes to fly a tiny nanocraft by Proxima b sometime in the next half-century or so.

For much more detail on all the other destinations in our gallery and why they made Hawking's list, check out "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places" on CuriosityStream.

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