"This is a paleontological search strategy, which is what I do," he said. "If I want to collect fossils in Nevada, I get a map and look for likely spots, like rock outcroppings, where fossils will be found. Ice turned on its edge is just a geologic outcrop to me let's go there and see if we can find evidence of past or present life."
Surface sites that might contain habitats with life or fossils include the areas of refrozen ocean, chaotic terrains with tilted and rotated blocks of ice, the ridges and rills associated with fissures, low areas where water may have collected, and "dirty" ice that may include material and organisms floated to the surface by ice formed on the bottom of the ocean or gouged by moving ice, as well as a variety of habitats in the ice itself.
Lipps noted, too, that while radiation at the surface could be intense enough to kill any Earth-like life, it would not penetrate more than a meter or two, so that many cracks, tubes, caves, and overhangs might exist in the surface ice that could be inhabited by life forms. Ices of different ages could provide an evolutionary look at life on the moon.
"A sampling strategy for life and its history on Europa should include paleontological, molecular biological, and volatile and organic chemical objectives that would clearly document the present and/or former existence of life on Europa," he said. He also urged detailed imaging of surface features, even at the microscopic level, since "the most exciting and convincing evidence for the general public would be an image of a life form."
Lipps said that if we start planning now, we could perhaps have a spacecraft on Europa in 15 years.