Meet The Lebanese Scientist Who Helped NASA Discover The 7 Earth-Like Planets


The news about finding seven Earth-like planets spread all over the world. But little do people know, a Lebanese scientist by the name of George Helou helped with the discovery.

George Helou is a Lebanese astronomer who is the Executive Director of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), Deputy Director of the Spitzer Science Center, and Director of the NASA Herschel Science Center.

Helou grew up in Lebanon and attended the American University of Beirut (AUB). He then left for the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. at Cornell University, a private Ivy-League school in New York.

He is one of the leading scientists at NASA and his work helped the space agency with the “Trappist-1” discovery. It is the first known system of seven Earth-like planets around a single star. It’s 39.5 light-years from the sun.

Caltech Submillimeter Observatory / Alain Khayat

Helou told MTV Lebanon, “Spitzer played a leading role and my center enabled its use, which ultimately helped us get the needed results. This is the first time we find a system that contains 6 or 7 planets that resemble the Earth in size and composition … they may contain water, and maybe even life, we hope.”

George Helou was awarded the Coat of Arms of the President, a prestigious award, by President Michel Sleiman during his visit to Lebanon in 2011.

“It is gratifying to receive these accolades from my country of origin, as an indication of the value they attach to science and education,” said Helou.

The ceremony took place at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, where 400 attendees celebrated his work with speeches and commemorative plaques.

During that visit to Lebanon, Helou visited the American University of Beirut (AUB), as well as Notre Dame University (NDU) in Louaize, and the Lebanese National Military Academy.

He gave lectures and participated in Q&A sessions at these institutions and two high schools, and also appeared in over a dozen television and print media interviews.

In regards to his trip to Lebanon, Helou said, “I took this recognition as an opportunity to talk about astronomy in general, the universe and the excitement of discovery, and especially the role of infrared astronomy.”


Over the mountains of Lebanon the skies were dark, the stars intense, and the Milky Way mesmerizing. The fascination slowly turned into a career path. -George Helou

Since the early 1980s, Helou has been involved in all of NASA’s and the European Space Agency’s infrared astronomy missions. These include:

  • Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which launched in 1983
  • Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), active from 1995 to 1998
  • Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003- Update: retired on 30 January 2020
  • Herschel Space Observatory, active from 2009 to 2013. It was the largest infrared telescope ever launched.
  • Planck Surveyor, active from 2009 to 2013
  • Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), launched in 2009. It was placed in hibernation mode in 2011, and re-activated in 2013 after being renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). Its mission will continue until at least June 2023.

Source: MTV Lebanon, Caltech

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