I was reading the National Geographic not all that long ago and was struck by a paragraph in a story about life on other worlds. It suggested that the search for extra solar planets was targeting M class dwarf stars, which, of course, include those known as Red Dwarfs. It mentioned that seven of the ten closet stars to Earth were dwarfs.
Here’s what struck me. I remembered reading about Marjorie Fish, the school teacher and amateur astronomer who had located the area of the sky that Betty Hill seemed to have drawn after seeing a star map on a UFO. Fish built a model (actually a series of models) of our section of the galaxy and viewed them from various angles until she found a pattern that was representative of the star map.
Don’t get me wrong. This was an impressive feat and took years to accomplish. In fact, it wasn’t until some of the star catalogs were updated with new and better information that she was successful.
Here’s where the problem arises. She assumed that the map represented our section of the galaxy, that alien travelers would be interested in stars of the same type as our sun, the travel patterns should make some sense and travel patterns would avoid the largest stars and those that are not on the main sequence (that is, stars that are basically stable for long periods of time and like our sun). These assumptions would become important later.
But others were also searching for the pattern. Charles W. Atterberg found a pattern that had Epsilon Eridani and Epsilon Indi as the base stars rather than Fish’s Zeta 1and Zeta 2 Reticuli. Atterberg’s map also fits with the Hill map, and two of the stars on it Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani were targets by Project Ozma, one of the first of the SETI searchs. In other words, astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligences believed that two of the stars in the Atterberg interpretation were likely candidates for planetary systems and intelligent life. Tau Ceti was also one of the candidates on the Fish map.
Suddenly we have two published interpretations of the Betty Hill's star map, both of which make sense (and I haven’t even discussed Betty Hill’s interpretation which was another section of the sky). But Marjorie Fish disagreed with Atterberg. Of the Atterberg interpretation, she noted that he had included some red dwarfs as stars visited by the aliens. She said that she had ruled out red dwarfs because there are so many of them and if she used red dwarfs in a logical construction, then all the lines were used before she reached Earth. She had assumed that the sun would be one of the stars connected to the others on the map although the "leader" of the alien crew had provided no indication that this was true.
She also assumed that if they, the aliens, were interested in red dwarfs, that is, that they visited some, then there should have been lines connecting other red dwarfs but there were not. Her assumption was that one red dwarf would be as interesting to a space faring race as the next. But it could be that some red dwarfs were more interesting because of things we could not see. Because we could detect no difference between one red dwarf and another doesn't mean that there aren't differences.
Fish made those assumptions thirty or forty years ago and they are now invalid. The article in National Geographic suggested that these M Class stars have long periods of stability, longer than those postulated for stars like our sun. While the dwarf stars are smaller, dimmer and cooler than the sun, they do have zones in which the conditions ideal for life as we know it exist and given the discovery of planets around some of these stars, including planets known as "Super– Earths," it is possible that life, including intelligent life, would be found on those planets.
There was also a recent announcement of a Super Earth that has oceans. This planet, thought to be about two and a half times the size of Earth, with a mean temperature higher than that on Earth, suggests that some dwarf stars might hold a great deal of interest for any space faring race. And while all stars that have planets where life is possible might not have life, some of them might and that would certainly make them interesting to space travelers.
What this means, simply, is that the criterion used by Marjorie Fish in her groundbreaking work should be revisited. With computer models available, scanning for the Betty Hill pattern wouldn’t take the years that Fish devoted to her search. We could now look at more stars closer to Earth because we have much better astronomical records and catalogs available. We might find a pattern closer to Earth and that might suggest to some where the search for extraterrestrial intelligence should be concentrated.