A “major step forward” toward the goal of answering the very big question: Is there life on other worlds?

DFW Fox 4 TV reporter Steve Eagar expressed “nerd-level” excitement about NASA’s announcement Feb. 22 of the discovery of seven new Earth-like planets. Eagar interviewed SMU professor Robert Kehoe, who leads the SMU astronomy team from the Department of Physics.

NASA announced that the Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in an area called the habitable zone, where liquid water is most likely to exist on a rocky planet.

“This is a surprising jump in our ability to understand earth like planets,” Kehoe told Eagar.

Kehoe and the SMU astronomy team recently reported discovery of a rare star as big — or bigger — than the Earth’s sun that is expanding and contracting in a unique pattern in three different directions.

The star is one that pulsates and so is characterized by varying brightness over time. It’s situated 7,000 light years away from the Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Called a variable star, this particular star is one of only seven known stars of its kind in our Milky Way galaxy.

Watch the video interview on Fox 4.