London, May 6 (ANI): Scientists have suggested that spacecraft should hunt for signs of life on Jupiter's ice-covered moon Europa, since it would be detectable there in the form of blooming flowers.
Europa, which is thought to have an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell, has long been a target for astrobiologists, who suspect the interior could be salubrious for life.
But, digging deep into the moon's icy shell could be difficult. Estimates of the thickness of the ice have ranged between less than a kilometre to more than 100 km.
Life could be visible from orbiting spacecraft, however, if it made a home in cracks in Europa's shell that connect the surface to the interior, Physicist and futurist Freeman Dyson told New Scientist.
Such life might take the form of flowers with a parabolic shape that focuses the dim sunlight falling on Europa on the interior of the plant.
Flowers with such shapes are found in Arctic climes on Earth, where the plants have evolved to maximize solar energy.
According to Dyson, Europa flowers could be detectable through a phenomenon called retroreflection, in which light gets reflected back to its source.
This optical effect is seen in light reflected from animals' eyes, and was used in the design of road signs and mirrors left behind on the moon by Apollo astronauts.
Although Dyson's 'sunflowers' may get their start on Europa, they could conceivably spread elsewhere in the solar system.
"You can imagine once you have flowers that get nourished from below, they could evolve in the direction of being independent," Dyson said.
"If plants spread to smaller, more distant objects in the solar system's two cometary reservoirs, the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud, they would be less subject to gravity and could easily grow in size to maximize solar collection," he added.
Europa will be one of two moons explored in depth by a planned collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency beginning in 2026,when a pair of orbiters are set to reach Jupiter. (ANI)