It's official: NASA and the ESA will be sending specialized probes to the Jupiter moon Europa to further investigate that icy, ocean-y place for signs of life. In 2020. Patience!
Called the Europa Jupiter System Mission, this joint initiative will see two probes dispensed into Jovian orbit, where they will scour Europa and several other moons for "the emergence of habitable worlds around gas giants."
That quoted part is important! If you'll remember, Kepler is tearing it up lately, discovering all sorts of planets out in the Milk Way. Many of them were in the habitable Goldilocks Zone. Some of those were earth-like, making them obvious contenders for hosting life, but some of them were gas giants, like Jupiter. At first glance that may seem like they wouldn't support life (Jupiter does not, as far as we know), but, like Jupiter, they may have moons like Europa. They could host life! Never neglect the moons, dear readers, when you look skyward with starry eyes, dreaming about life on other worlds.
NASA's orbiter, named the Jupiter Europa Orbiter, will analyze that moon's 10-kilometer thick icy shell, returning data on what makes up its layers and ridges. The probe's to-do list also includes scouting landing sites for future missions.
Thanks to an onboard laser altimeter, "ice-penetrating radar," cameras and spectrometers used for analyzing visible, infrared and UV light, she'll also be armed to the teeth with the kinds of gadgets necessary to learn everything there is to know about this potentially life-supporting moon.
The ESA's Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter will survey—you guessed it—the Jovian moon Ganymede. The incredibly cool feature associated with that moon is it magnetic field (unique to that moon), as well as its own internal ocean. The JGO will study them all with a host of instruments similar to those named above.
Secondary objectives include the study of Io and Callisto, with further mission details expected in 2013. The mission has priority status, which is a good thing! Not so cool: the scheduled launch dates. NASA materials indicate the two probes would lift off sometime in February or March of 2019 or 2020 for what appears to be an ambitious 9-year mission.