A body of water the size of the U.S.'s Great Lakes has been found inside the ice-covered shell of Jupiter's moon Europa. The discovery has significant implications for life beyond Earth.
The findings, published in the scientific journal Nature, suggest a potential habitat for life, and that many more lakes might exist across Europa.
The report's author Britney Schmidt, a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics said: "One opinion in the scientific community has been, 'If the ice shell is thick, that's bad for biology -- that it might mean the surface isn't communicating with the underlying ocean,
Now we see evidence that even though the ice shell is thick, it can mix vigorously. That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable."
Collapsing ice shelves on the surface are another hint at life beyond earth. The collapsing ice could transfer nutrients and energy between the surface and a vast ocean below.
"One opinion in the scientific community has been if the ice shell is thick, that's bad for biology. That might mean the surface isn't communicating with the underlying ocean," Schmidt added.
"Now, we see evidence that it's a thick ice shell that can mix vigorously and new evidence for giant shallow lakes. That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable."
Schmidt made the findings by focusing on two images from the Nasa Galileo craft, which was launched by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1989.
"This new understanding of processes on Europa would not have been possible without the foundation of the last 20 years of observations over Earth's ice sheets and floating ice shelves," said Don Blankenship, a co-author and senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics.