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It has long been thought that Jupiter's moon Europa may contain a body of liquid deep beneath its icy surface but now astronomers have announced they have found evidence predicting shallow lakes existing in the icy crust much closer to the surface.

Scientists from The University of Texas at Austin, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas published their findings in the November edition of the journal Nature.

Europa's Great Lake (Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel VFX/Univ. of Texas at Austin)

The author's appeared to have discovered a body of liquid, possibly salty, only 3 kilometres below the surface locked inside Europa's icy shell which is said to contain as much water as the North American Great Lakes. Previously it has been generally thought that any ocean would start at a depth of many kilometres beneath the surface.

Researchers also believe that despite the water pocket existing a few kilometres below the surface, the salty water environment could still be enough to support some life forms. Lead scientist Dr Britney Schmidt 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.'

The findings are significant in the search for life elsewhere.