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Europa has long been touted as a potential hotspot for extraterrestrials because of the salty ocean that lies beneath its icy crust.

NASA boffs are so intrigued they are going to send a spacecraft there, with the launch as early as 2020 and arrival "several years later".

And ahead of the mission, they have been handed a huge boost in the likelihood they may find alien lifeforms inhabiting the planet.

Scientists believe a process known as subduction – where plates dive beneath each other – is possible there massively boosting the chance of inhabitation.

Brandon Johnson – professor in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University – said: "If, indeed, there's life in that ocean, subduction offers a way to supply the nutrients it would need."

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Category: Science