Ever since the Voyager probes imaged Jupiter's moons in exquisite detail in 1979, NASA has wanted to do a little ice fishing on Europa. Now it looks like they are going to get the chance.

Discovered in 1610 by astronomer Galileo, Europa is one of the four main Galilean Moons that orbit the massive gas giant Jupiter. Looking like little more than a gleeming ball of spinning ice, the Voyager probes detected something interesting about this alien world: the icy crust may hide a liquid ocean beneath.

Jupiter's moon Europa taken by the Galileo spacecraft. NASA

Liquid water on a planet other than Earth... the idea by itself is incredible. And yet this distant moon, that's smaller than our own moon, there may be an ocean more vast than all of Earth's oceans combined.

And it may harbor life.

Not life like us, but perhaps simple life like bacteria or extremophiles deep within Europa's ocean that are warmed by thermal vents much as our oceans are. We simply don't know.

That's where Europa Clipper comes in. NASA has officially moved the probe from "concept" to "mission." Europa Clipper is a robotic probe, much like the Voyagers, Pioneers, Galileo, and Cassini probes before it, but this will be the first one targeted at a moon rather than a planetary system.

Europa Clipper has one mission: determine if life is possible or currently exists on Europa. And that is awesome!

Even noted science fiction author, Arthur C. Clark, speculated about the possibility of life under the ice of Europa when writing the novels '2001: A Space Odyssey,' and '2010: Odyssey Two.' In the novels, an ancient alien intelligence protects the icy moon so that life can evolve without human interference. The intelligence, in the form of giant, black monoliths, send a message to Earth:


Could life exist under the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa? That's a question that NASA's Europa Clipper hopes to answer in 2020. And I can't wait to find out the answer.