Hawking is pictured with his  children Robert, Lucy & Tim and his first wife Jane 

Martin Robinson, Uk Chief Reporter and Anthony Joseph and Jessa Schroeder For Mailonline Martin Robinson, Uk Chief Reporter and Anthony Joseph and Jessa Schroeder For Mailonline

The world’s most celebrated scientist passed away peacefully at his home in Cambridge this morning after a long battle with motor neurone disease, his family has revealed.

His children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement: ‘We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years

‘He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever’.

They also said their father’s ‘courage, persistence, brilliance and humour inspired people across the world’.

Professor Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 when he was 21 and he defied medical experts who said he would be dead within two years.

In the following 55 years he became the world’s most famous scientist since Albert Einstein for his work exploring the mysteries of space, time and black holes despite being wheelchair-bound and only able to communicate using a computer and his famous voice synthesizer.

University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope said today: ‘His exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy. His character was an inspiration to millions’.

The world's most celebrated scientist Professor Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76

The world’s most celebrated scientist Professor Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76

Professor Stephen Hawking (pictured in 2015) died  more than 50 years after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease

Professor Stephen Hawking (pictured in 2015) died more than 50 years after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease

His family say he passed away peacefully at his home in Cambridge (pictured today)

His family say he passed away peacefully at his home in Cambridge (pictured today)

Flags across the city where he worked are flying at half mast today as it mourns for its most famous academic

Flags across the city where he worked are flying at half mast today as it mourns for its most famous academic

Theresa May led tributes to a 'brilliant mind' whose 'courage and humour was an inspiration'

Theresa May led tributes to a ‘brilliant mind’ whose ‘courage and humour was an inspiration’

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His most famous book ‘A Brief History of Time’ became an international bestseller with more than 10million copies sold – although the physicist joked himself that many who owned it never finished it and more struggled to understand its complexity.

The Cambridge-based scientist, who married twice, embraced popular culture appearing in The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory, Star Trek, Futurama and Little Britain.

He said he embraced popular culture because he wanted to make science more mainstream and encourage the world to ‘look up at the stars and not down at your feet’.

In a recent poll he was voted the 25th greatest Briton of all time.

He was immortalised in the 2014 Oscar-winning biopic The Theory of Everything, where he was played by Eddie Redmayne.

The actor said today: ‘We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet. My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.’

Prime Minister Theresa May said Dr Hawking was ‘a brilliant and extraordinary mind – one of the great scientists of his generation’ whose ‘courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration’.

Hawking’s most famous works included a mathematical model for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and the nature of the universe such as The Big Bang and Black Holes.

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up
– Dr Stephen Hawking

He wrote or co-wrote 15 books all in the face of severe health problems.

Paying tribute to him Astronomer Royal Professor Lord Martin Rees, who is emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Tragedy struck Stephen Hawking when he was only 22. He was diagnosed with a deadly disease, and his expectations dropped to zero.

‘He himself said that everything that happened since then was a bonus. And what a triumph his life has been.

‘His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds – a manifestation of amazing will-power and determination.’

Dr Hawking was immortalised in the Oscar-winning biopic The Theory of Everything, where he was played by Eddie Redmayne

was given the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama

Dr Hawking was immortalised in the Oscar-winning biopic The Theory of Everything, where he was played by Eddie Redmayne and his many awards included the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama

Dr Hawking agreed to appear in The Simpsons and many other hit shows saying he wanted to make science more mainstream

Dr Hawking agreed to appear in The Simpsons and many other hit shows saying he wanted to make science more mainstream

Professor Brian Cox told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think he is one of the greats. There are many good theoretical physicists who make a big contribution, but there aren’t that many greats.

‘And by that I mean that I think there are physicists in a thousand years time, they will still be talking about Hawking radiation, they will be using his fundamental results on black holes.

‘Actually, the last time I saw him at his 75th birthday party, he was talking about the new gravitational wave experiment where we’ve seen the collisions of black holes, and speculating that those results might be able to prove some of his theorems once and for all.

‘Plus his contributions to the physics of the very early universe, so there are at least three and possibly more areas where his work will be remembered as long as there are cosmologists and that’s the best you can hope for as a scientist.’

Physicist James Hartle, whose work with Prof Hawking led to the Hartle-Hawking model of the universe’s origins, said his colleague had ‘inspired a lot of people’.

Prof Hartle told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘What was unique about him was that he had a marvellous ability to see through all the clutter in physics and to see what the essential points are and that, of course, was a great thing for going forward.’

He added: ‘My memory of him would be on several fronts: first our work together, as a scientist, and second as a human being whose whole story is of triumph over adversity and who inspired a lot of people, including me.’

British astronaut Tim Peake said Prof Hawking ‘inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe’.

‘His personality and genius will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family,’ he wrote on Twitter.

Inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, tweeted: ‘We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking.’

Nasa remembered Prof Hawking as a ‘renowned physicist and ambassador of science’.

‘His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space-Station in 2014,’ the organisation tweeted.

Stephen Hawking as a baby with his father Dr Frank Hawking shortly after his birth in 1942

Stephen Hawking as a baby with his father Dr Frank Hawking shortly after his birth in 1942

Stephen Hawking (left) is pictured as a child with his sisters Mary and Phillipa

Stephen Hawking (left) is pictured as a child with his sisters Mary and Phillipa

Stephen Hawking with his Aunt Muriel on VE day.

Aged 12 in the garden of his St Albans home in 1954

Stephen Hawking with his Aunt Muriel on VE day in 1945 and aged 12 in the garden of his St Albans home in 1954

Stephen Hawking at his Oxford graduation after being awarded his degree in 1962

Stephen Hawking at his Oxford graduation after being awarded his degree in 1962

Jane and Stephen in the mis-1960s, shortly after his diagnosis with motor neurone disease and being given two years to live

Jane and Stephen in the mis-1960s, shortly after his diagnosis with motor neurone disease and being given two years to live

Professor Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane are pictured with children Robert, Lucy and Tim

Professor Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane are pictured with children Robert, Lucy and Tim

Jane and Stephen divorced in 1991 in an acrimonious split that caused major tensions with his family

Jane and Stephen divorced in 1991 in an acrimonious split that caused major tensions with his family

The scientist married former nurse Elaine Mason in 1995 and they divorced in 2006

The scientist married former nurse Elaine Mason in 1995 and they divorced in 2006

Professor Stephen Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (pictured in 2000)

Professor Stephen Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (pictured in 2000)

Hawking is shown at a press conference to announce Breakthrough Starshot, a new space exploration initiative, at One World Observatory on April 12, 2016 in New York City

Hawking is shown at a press conference to announce Breakthrough Starshot, a new space exploration initiative, at One World Observatory on April 12, 2016 in New York City

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Prof Hawking had ‘made the world a better place’ and that his death was ‘anguishing’.

Stephen Hawking at his Oxford graduation a year before his devastating MND diagnosis in 1963

Stephen Hawking at his Oxford graduation a year before his devastating MND diagnosis in 1963

Pop superstar Katy Perry said ‘there’s a big black hole in my heart’ following Prof Hawking’s death.

Jonathan Ross lamented that humankind was significantly down on intelligence points following Prof Hawking’s death.

‘RIP Stephen Hawking. The world just dropped a lot of IQ points. And, he was a fun person. Very sad news,’ the presenter tweeted.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was one of the first to pay tribute to Professor Stephen Hawking following his death aged 76.

Sharing a photo of himself and Prof Hawking on Twitter, he said: ‘His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.’

Dr Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England.

His family had moved to Oxford from north London to escape the threat of World War II rockets.

When he was 8, they moved St. Albans, a town about 20 miles north of the capital, where he would attend St Albans School and later University College, Oxford where his father attended.

His prodigious talent and unorthodox study methods meant he used few books and made no notes but could still solve problems like no other students.

He wanted to study mathematics but the subject was not available at the college so he chose physics instead.

In 1962, he went to the University of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics to conduct research in cosmology.

In 1965, he received his PhD with his thesis ‘Properties of Expanding Universes’ and would soon publish his first academic book ‘The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time’.

At the age of 21, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a nerve system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical function.

But he continued his scientific work, appeared on television and married for a second time.

As one of Isaac Newton’s successors as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Hawking was involved in the search for the great goal of physics — a ‘unified theory.’

Such a theory would resolve the contradictions between Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which describes the laws of gravity that govern the motion of large objects like planets, and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, which deals with the world of subatomic particles.

(L-R) British actress Felicity Jones, ex-wife of Stephen Hawking, Jane Wilde Hawking, British physicist Stephen Hawking, and British actor Eddie Redmayne arrive for the UK premiere of 'The Theory of Everything' in Leicester Square in London

(L-R) British actress Felicity Jones, ex-wife of Stephen Hawking, Jane Wilde Hawking, British physicist Stephen Hawking, and British actor Eddie Redmayne arrive for the UK premiere of ‘The Theory of Everything’ in Leicester Square in London

Astrophysicist Hawking floats on a zero-gravity jet in April 2007. The modified jet carrying Hawking, physicians and nurses, and dozens of others first flew up to 24,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean off Florida 

Astrophysicist Hawking floats on a zero-gravity jet in April 2007. The modified jet carrying Hawking, physicians and nurses, and dozens of others first flew up to 24,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean off Florida

Professor Hawking was even asked to use his mathematical genius to help England win the World Cup and perfect their penalties 

Professor Hawking was even asked to use his mathematical genius to help England win the World Cup and perfect their penalties

HOW STEPHEN HAWKING HELPED EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE’S BIGGEST MYSTERIES

Stephen Hawking probed the very limits of human understanding both in the vastness of space and in the bizarre sub-molecular world of quantum theory.

As well as numerous best-selling books, Hawking also published several important scientific papers during an illustrious research career.

Through his groundbreaking theories, the legendary physicist examined the origins of the universe and helped explain the behaviour of black holes.

Stephen Hawking, who sought to explain some of the most complicated questions of life while working under the shadow of a likely premature death, has died at 76

Stephen Hawking, who sought to explain some of the most complicated questions of life while working under the shadow of a likely premature death, has died at 76

1970 Space-time in black holes

One of Hawking’s first key ideas was how space and time react within the brutal confines of black holes.

Black holes are regions of space with a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape.

The objects are so powerful they bend time and space in bizarre ways, and in 1970 Hawking showed how black holes alter ‘space-time’.

‘Space-time’ is a theory used by physicists to describe the fusion of 3D space and time into a four-dimensional continuum.

Up until the ’70s physicists had known Einstein’s theory allowed for ‘singularities’ – points where space-time appeared to be infinitely curved.

But it was unclear whether or not these singularities actually existed.

Birkbeck College physicist Sir Roger Penrose showed that singularities do exist as they can form in black holes.

Alongside Sir Penrose, Hawking applied the same idea to the universe in its entirety in 1970.

They showed that Einstein’s theory predicted a singularity in our distant past: The Big Bang.

1971-72 Black hole mechanics

Black holes are regions of space with a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape.

Their field is so intense that they form their own set of physical laws unlike anything else in the universe.

Hawking devised the second law of black holes, which states that the total surface area of a black hole will never get smaller.

In separate work, Hawking sparked the ‘no hair’ theorem of black holes.

This states that black holes can be characterised by three numbers – their mass, charge and angular momentum.

The ‘hair’ in Hawking’s idea is other information that disappears when it falls into the black hole.

1974-75 How black holes vanish

Hawking showed that black holes emit heat and eventually vanish in an extremely slow process.

While a black hole with the mass of the sun would take longer than the age of our universe to evaporate, smaller ones disappear faster.

Near the end of their lives they release heat at a dramatic rate, with an average-sized black hole releasing the energy of a million hydrogen bombs in just a tenth of a second.

Hawking’s drew on ‘quantum theory’ for the finding – the branch of physics concerned with how the universe works at the subatomic level.

Through his groundbreaking theories, the legendary physicist helped explain the behaviour of black holes (artist's impression) and examined the origins of the universe

Through his groundbreaking theories, the legendary physicist helped explain the behaviour of black holes (artist’s impression) and examined the origins of the universe

1982 How galaxies arise

Many physicists believe the universe inflated rapidly shortly after the Big Bang.

Hawking was one of the first to show how galaxies may have formed during this explosion of time and space.

He found that quantum fluctuations – tiny variations in the distribution of matter – grew into the galaxies that dot the cosmos today.

This is because strong gravitational forces made matter clump together.

Hawking’s theory is supported by recent observations of the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which spotted the sort of variations Hawking worked with.

1983 How the universe began

Hawking is best known for his attempts to combine two key theories of physics: Quantum theory and Einstein’s general relativity.

While quantum theory covers how tiny subatomic particles stitch together the fabric of our universe, general relativity deals with larger objects.

It describes how galaxies, stars, black holes, planets and more interact with one another via gravitational forces.

Much of Hawking;s work focussed on combining quantum theory and general relativity with Einstein’s theory of gravity.

He suggested that this new theory, known as quantum gravity, could fill in many of the gaps of our current understanding of physics and the universe.

In 1983 the physicist partnered with Chicago University’s Professor Jim Hartle to propose a ‘wave function of the universe’.

Known as the Hartle-Hawking state, this notion is meant to figure out how the universe began through quantum mechanics.

In theory, this could be used to understand the properties of the universe around us.

1988 A brief history of time

Hawking’s bestselling book A Brief History of Time has sold more than ten million copies since it was published in 1988.

The book, which described the structure, origin, development and eventual fate of the universe, was a surprise success for the relatively unknown physicist, staying in the Sunday Times bestseller list for 237 weeks.

Hawking wrote the book for readers with no knowledge of any scientific theories.

The physicist joked himself that many who owned the book struggled to understand its complexity and never finished it.

The book ultimately propelled Hawking to stardom, with the physicist publishing or co-publishing 15 books in total and writing or starring in multiple scientific documentaries, television shows, films and more.

What happened before the Big Bang?

At the time of the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, all matter in the universe erupted from a singularity to create the cosmos.

But scientists are unsure what happened before then.

In a recent TV interview, Hawking said ‘nothing was around before the Big Bang’.

Instead, time and space existed in a ‘bent state’ that was distorted along another dimension.

The physicist believes the Big Bang was the formation of what we now regard as time because the event broke down the laws of physics.

This means that anything that preceded it cannot be applied to our understanding of time and existence.

By Harry Pettit, science and technology reporter 

For Hawking, the search was almost a religious quest — he said finding a ‘theory of everything’ would allow mankind to ‘know the mind of God.’

He wrote in ‘A Brief History of Time’ that ‘a complete, consistent unified theory is only the first step: our goal is a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence.’

In later years, though, he suggested a unified theory might not exist.

He followed up in the book in 2001 with the more accessible sequel, ‘The Universe in a Nutshell,’ updating readers on concepts like super gravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.

Hawking said belief in a God who intervenes in the universe ‘to make sure the good guys win or get rewarded in the next life’ was wishful thinking.

‘But one can’t help asking the question: Why does the universe exist?’ he said in 1991. ‘I don’t know an operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a meaning. But it bothers me.’

The combination of his best-selling book and his almost total disability — for a while he could use a few fingers, later he could only tighten the muscles on his face — made him one of science’s most recognizable faces.