Europe tells US: 'Come to Europa'
By Jonathan Amos BBC News science reporter
Europa may have oceans and micro-organisms under its ice. The next big co-operative European-US space mission will be to Europa, the ice-crusted moon of Jupiter. A joint working team is being set up to consider what sort of spacecraft would be needed and what each side could do.
Officials in Washington and Paris are keen to follow up the spectacular success of Cassini-Huygens at Saturn. "It was a beautiful marriage and we really are looking to do a repeat," said Professor David Southwood, from the European Space Agency (Esa). Southwood told the BBC News website that "Europe could do Europa on its own", but that a cooperative venture was extremely attractive. It's a natural for the next big international collaboration in space.
Prof Fred Taylor, Oxford UniversityMany scientists agree that Europa is now a high priority target for a major mission. The moon, discovered by Galileo, is slightly smaller than the Earth's Moon. Its covering of white and brownish-tinted ice is riven with cracks that are probably the result of stressing caused by the contorting tidal effects of Jupiter's strong gravity.
Researchers speculate that tidal heating may even have produced vast oceans of water under the ice sheet and that this environment could harbour micro-organisms.