ONE of the greatest scientific minds in history, Stephen Hawking, has died at the age of 76.

Less than six months ago, Professor Hawking paid a surprise visit to the Spaceguard Centre and observatory near Knighton.

The centre entre is the National Near Earth Objects Information Centre (NNEOIC).

It is the only organisation in the UK dedicated to addressing the hazard of Near Earth Objects (NEO)

NEOs are asteroids and comets that come close to, and sometimes collide with the Earth.

Spaceguard Centre Director, Jay Tate, paid tribute to Prof Hawking: "What can one say?

"Professor Hawking was the towering figure in physics and cosmology in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.

He also had a great interest in other fields, including the asteroid and comet impact hazard.

"As a valued supporter of the Asteroid Day initiative he was helping to raise public and political awareness of the risk to human civilisation posed by near Earth objects, and we are enormously grateful for his support and encouragement.

As a communicator he was unsurpassed,and he managed to bring fiendishly complicated subjects to the public in an understandable way.

"He will be sadly missed by scientists of all persuasions and the general public alike.

"I doubt whether we’ll see his like again for many years."

Professor Hawking who died at his home in Cambridge on Wednesday morning was just as famous for battling Motor Neurone Disease (MND) for most of his life.

Diagnosed with a rare form, of MND at the age of 22

At the age of 22 Prof Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease.

The illness left him in a wheelchair and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser.

He was famed for his work with black holes and relativity, and wrote several popular science books including A Brief History of Time.

he also crossed over to the world of tv and film gaining popularity outside the academic world and appeared in several TV shows including The Simpsons, Red Dwarf and The Big Bang Theory.

He was portrayed in both TV and film - recently by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, which charted his rise to fame and relationship with his first wife, Jane.