Lebanese researcher George Helou has led advances in infrared astronomy — starting in the 1980s with NASA’s IRAS probe, the first space telescope to use infrared light to study parts of the universe too distant or too faint to be visible.
For 40 years, George and his team at the California Institute of Technology’s Astroscience Laboratory have made breakthrough discoveries including identifying seven Earth-like, and in some cases potentially life-sustaining, planets.
“At least three or four of them are just the right distance from their star to be illuminated, to be as hot, or warm if you’d like, as Earth. And that’s what makes them very interesting. And they’re also not too far away, which means that we are really excited about Webb being able to study them,” Helou said.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently produced the most detailed images of the universe in history.
One of these is the Cartwheel, a galaxy shaped like a wagon wheel about 500 million light years away, which was caused by what the US space agency said was an intense collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy.
“What the image tells us is that we are able to detect extremely faint galaxies very early in the universe. The goal is that we will go out and look at the right locations in the sky to find the earliest galaxies that are forming and measure the population of galaxies very early in the universe to understand how they evolved into today’s universe,” Helou said.
The Lebanese researcher is pleased to see the increased interest in astronomy, particularly in the Gulf region.
“I will cite the UAE mission to Mars and the Saudi Arabian space agency, among others. So there’s definitely a trend for space exploration to become an international collaboration, and I see a lot of potential for Arab youth to participate.”