Note the comparatively brief window for multicellular life in planets orbiting F-class stars when compared to a G-class star like our Sun, and note too that K-class stars (Alpha Centauri B is the nearest example) offer a much longer period of clement conditions for any planets in their habitable zone. The figure does not display M-class red dwarfs, but there the picture changes entirely because these stars can burn for trillions of years depending on their mass. If we do discover that life is possible on planets orbiting red dwarfs, then the time frame for intelligence to develop is proportionately extended.
With the universe now thought to be some 13.7 billion years old, is it possible that most intelligent species simply haven’t had time to appear on the scene? With up to 80 percent of the stars in our galaxy being red dwarfs, we may exist early in the overall picture of living intelligence, and most of it may evolve around stars far different than our own. Yesterday I talked about our gradual tightening of the number for eta-Earth (ηEarth), the percentage of Sun-like stars with planets like ours in their habitable zone. What we are still in the dark about is eta-Intelligence (ηIntelligence), the percentage of habitable zone planets with life that evolve intelligent species.
But back to F, G and K-class stars and what we do know. The O’Malley-James paper makes the significant point that G-class stars have a window for multicellular life that, based on the solitary example of our own planet, appears roughly the same length as the developmental period needed to produce it. And after the era of multicellular life, as the parent star swells toward red giant status, the era of microbial life returns for a still lengthy stretch, though shorter than the one that began it. Thus the reasonable statement “It is entirely possible that some future discoveries of habitable exoplanets will be planets that are nearing the end of their habitable lifetimes, i.e. with host stars nearing the end of their main sequence lifetimes.”
Without any knowledge of ηIntelligence, we can’t know what happens as the multicellular window begins to close. But if intelligence is not rare, then we can conceive of advanced civilizations taking the necessary steps to ensure their survival, either through migration to other star systems or massive engineering projects in space, perhaps remaining near the parent star. The kind of ‘interstellar archaeology’ championed by those who search for Dyson spheres and other massive constructs is an attempt to find projects like these, a form of SETI that is not reliant on the intent of a civilization to make contact and one that does not assume radio or optical beacons.