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> it makes sense to start searching at the most likely place for the most likely thing, no?

It may be the most likely to be easily recognized but not necessarily the most prevalent. You have two variables to balance: (a) likelihood that the planet you're looking at contains life and (b) likelihood that you'll know it when you see it.

If you can increase (a) significantly then it may not matter if (b) is very low or not

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