Astronomers believe the rough, icy surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa, is the most likely place in the solar system to harbour alien life.
Now Nasa has set aside £14.6 million ($25 million) to design probes that could reveal whether Europa is, in fact, habitable.
The agency yesterday asked scientists to come forward with potential experiments for a Europa probe that could be launched in the 2020s and arrive at the icy satellite within three years of take-off.
Scientists looking for signs of life in the universe -- as well as another planet like our own -- are a lot closer to their goal than people realize.
That was the consensus of a panel on the search for life in the universe held at NASA headquarters Monday in Washington. The discussion focused not only on the philosophical question of whether we're alone in the universe but also on the technological advances made in an effort to answer that question.
"We believe we're very, very close in terms of technology and science to actually finding the other Earth and our chance to find signs of life on another world," said Sara Seager, a MacArthur Fellow and professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"We definitely think it's one step closer to finding a true Sun–Earth analogue," says study co-author Elisa Quintana, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and at the nearby NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. But because the star that the exoplanet orbits is a cool, dim one unlike the Sun, Quintana and her colleagues consider the planet more of a cousin to Earth than a twin.