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SETI Institute searches for red-dwarf aliens

Image: Red dwarf planetary system
An artist’s conception shows a planetary system around a red dwarf star. (Credit: ESO)

The SETI Institute is shifting the focus of its search for extraterrestrial intelligence to places that could harbor life that’s not as we know it: 20,000 red-dwarf star systems.

“Red dwarfs – the dim bulbs of the cosmos – have received scant attention by SETI scientists in the past,” SETI Institute engineer Jon Richard said today in a news release announcing the initiative. “That’s because researchers made the seemingly reasonable assumption that other intelligent species would be on planets orbiting stars similar to the sun.”

Red dwarfs are nothing like the sun: The brightest of the breed are a tenth as luminous as the sun, and some are just 0.01 percent as bright. But astronomers say they account for three-quarters of all stars.

The star that’s closest to our sun, Proxima Centauri, is a red dwarf. A variety of observing efforts, including the Pale Red Dot initiative, are looking for planets around Proxima Centauri.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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