London: After a successful mission to Pluto last week, scientists are preparing to launch a probe to search for life on the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter, media reports said.
Earlier this week, the European Space Agency announced that it would collaborate with aircraft manufacturing giant Airbus to launch a space probe in 2022 to look for extra-terrestrial existence on the four icy moons -- Titan, Saturn's largest moon and the ocean-bearing worlds of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto of Jupiter, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Saturday.
Dubbed as the "Juice" (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) spacecraft, the mission will look whether the frozen worlds that surround the two giant gaseous planets could support extra-terrestrial life.
"All our current exciting and fascinating space missions have been dealing with either understanding the origins of life and our Solar System or finding exoplanets (planets that revolve around a star other than the Sun) that might host Earth-like planets," Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert from Nottingham Trent University, was quoted as saying.
"But, life doesn't have to exist on planets like Earth, it could also have developed in oceans within icy moons around Jupiter like gas giants," he added.
It is hoped that micro-organisms or even fish-like creatures may be present in deep-water hydrothermal vents, known as 'black smokers', which are known to harbour life on Earth.
"Juice will be exploring the Titan and three Galilean moons of Jupiter thought to harbour oceans under their surface. It will give us a much better understanding what lies beneath the icy crust and how it could offer an environment for life to develop."
The probe will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket which would spend seven and a half years slingshotting around Earth, Mars and Venus to pick up enough speed to get to the Jupiter system with as little fuel as possible.
For three and a half years, the spacecraft will sweep around the giant planet, exploring its turbulent atmosphere, enormous magnetosphere, and tenuous set of dark rings, as well as studying the icy moons -- Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto.
The probe will start with Callisto before making two fly-bys of Europa, where it will study the icy surface.