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Jupiter’s smallest Galilean moon, Europa, not only has a massive global ocean, it has huge lakes beneath its icy crust, according to new research.

NASA has been very confident for about a decade that there is a huge ocean on Europa, according to NASA program scientist Curt Niebur. But the ocean is capped by an ice crust and no one was sure about its thickness. Europa is relatively large among the dozens of moons of Jupiter.

Some scientists thought it was a mile or two thick, but most scientists thought it was several miles thick. A thick crust would be bad news for life because it would mean the ocean could never splash up on Europa’s shores to interact with possible sources of food needed to sustain life.

New research announced Wednesday indicates the crust is thick, but it also shows that there are lakes above the oceans and that they are churning. This is key, because it means possible life forms in Europa’s oceans could make it the surface via the lakes to find food.

"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,' " according to Britney Schmidt, a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Geophysics and the lead author of a new study published in the journal Nature.

"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," she said in a statement.

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