SETI switches focus in hunt for extra-terrestrial life

In the light of recent research, SETI – the Institute for the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence – has decided to start focusing on red dwarf systems to seek out intelligent life. Previously, researchers have prioritised solar systems similar to our own. But the institute now says that the possibilities of finding life in red dwarf systems is greater than formerly thought.

There are a number of things in favour of finding life in red dwarf systems. One is that there are loads more of them than other stars. Three-quarters of stars in the Milky Way are red dwarfs, meaning there are a lot more to choose from. They are also a lot closer than the sun-like stars in our galaxy, so any signals being broadcast will be stronger.

Another positive is that red dwarfs are smaller and burn cooler, so they last a lot longer. For a long time, scientists believed that this limited the chance of life on planets circling red dwarfs. The potential habitable zone is very narrow and quite close to the star – not so good for radiation. But older systems also have more time to develop life, and intelligent life at that.

Awesome space fact: every red dwarf star that has ever existed, is still burning today.

The SETI Institute will be aiming the Allen Telescope Array towards 70,000 neighbouring red dwarfs, and the survey is expected to take two years. One contender for life is Gliese 667Cc, an exoplanet with an Earth Similarity Index of 0.84 (that’s pretty good). At a mere 23.6 light years away, if we did find evidence of intelligent life on Gliese 667Cc, we could be having a conversation with aliens pretty soon. Although it will take more than 40 years before we got an answer…

Image credit: D. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics