The M Dwarf Civilization SETI Advantage

Previously in Night Side Detection of M Dwarf Civilizations I suggested that a civilization on a tidally-locked habitable planet orbiting an M Dwarf star would present a permanently lighted “night” side (or far side) that could potentially be visible to a SETI search.

The idea of civilization arising on a tidally-locked M Dwarf exoplanet is particularly interesting for the consequences that would follow for a civilization on a habitable planet that was nevertheless habitable in a very different way from the way in which earth is habitable. This SETI detectability of a permanently lit far side is one such consequence, which a civilization gradually extending itself into the harsh environment of the “cold” side of the planet (which might present conditions somewhat like Antarctica during its long winter) would distinctively show up as artificial lighting gradually spreading rearward from the inhabitable ring that constitutes the transition zone from a permanently lighted day side and a permanently dark night side.

This distinctive lighting pattern, as well as the fact that it would not change on a diurnal basis such as would define an orbit, though it might change seasonally (in so far as there could be seasons on such a world) or annually, would make an M dwarf exoplanet a distinctive target for a SETI search, but an M dwarf exoplanet civilization might also have a unique advantage in itself conducting SETI searches.

I have written on several occasions about the advantages of placing a radio telescope on the far side of the moon, where it would be permanently in the EM spectrum shadow of the bulk of the moon — the quietest place in our planetary system in terms of EM spectrum radiation, because it is always facing away from Earth, from which our civilization is constantly emitting EM spectrum radiation. (Cf. my post Cyberspace and Outer Space; SETI astronomer Claudio Maccone is especially associated with the proposal to build a radio telescope on the far side of the moon.)

On a tidally-locked M dwarf habitable exoplanet, the planet itself would possess such a “radio quiet” location in the center of its night side, especially before the progress of its civilization gradually spreads to the night side. Conditions would be harsh, but less harsh than the far side of the moon, as there would be an atmosphere and breathable air, and it would be much easier to reach than the far side of the moon, so that a construction project on the far side of a tidally-locked M dwarf exoplanet would be something like scientific research stations on Antarctica — difficult, but doable.

Thus we have a particular feature of a planet that could be sufficiently habitable for the emergence of a technologically sophisticated civilization, and a certain period in that civilization’s history — once it has developed radio telescopes and has the technology to survive on the night side of the planet — when such a civilization would possess an advantage over our terrestrial civilization in the ability to conduct SETI observations — and, I might add, a general advantage in both optical and radio telescopy that could prove valuable in more narrowly scientific terms, regardless of whether or not a SETI search is undertaken, and, if a SETI search is undertaken, regardless of its success.

This observation suggests the possibility that a civilization on a tidally-locked habitable M dwarf exoplanet might possess a range of different possibilities and capabilities distinctive to its circumstances and different from those possibilities and capabilities we possess — and probably also a different range of disabilities and challenges. For example, how would early, pre-technological, astronomy differ for a civilization on such a planet? How would these differences influence the development of civilization?

More generally yet, the distinctive properties of any planetary system would involve distinctive possibilities, capabilities, disabilities, and challenges. This generalization of the above idea is also a generalization of the fundamental idea behind the overview effect, which Frank White has elegantly characterized such that, “…mental processes and views of life cannot be separated from physical location. Our ‘worldview’ as a conceptual framework depends quite literally on our view of the world from a physical place in the universe.” (The Overview Effect, p. 1)

How a particular physical place in the universe comes to be associated with a particular intelligent species is a function of what I have called planetary endemism, and from the probably finite class of general types of planetary systems we will probably be able to eventually define a finite class of physical perspectives on the universe in so far as these perspectives are determinative of an endemic intelligent species’ worldview.

Originally published at