The space probe Juice sets off for Jupiter in 2022

The European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed plans that it will be sending a probe to Jupiter and its moons in a multibillion euro project.

The probe, called Juice [JUpiter ICy moon Explorer] was approved at a meeting of ESA member states in Paris.

It will launch in 2022 although it will be another eight years before it reaches the Jovian system, where the gas giant - the largest planet in the Solar System - and its moons are located.

Callisto, Europa and Ganymede, three of Jupiter's moons, are suspected to have oceans of water beneath their icy surface and the probe will try to confirm that theory.

Prof Michele Dougherty, a Juice member from Imperial College London, told the BBC: "People probably don't realise that habitable zones don't necessarily need to be close to a star - in our case, close to the Sun.

"There are four conditions required for life to form. You need water; you need an energy source - so the ice can become liquid; you need the right chemistry - nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen; and the fourth thing you need is stability - a length of time that allows life to form.

"The great thing about the icy moons in the Jupiter system is that we think those four conditions might exist there and Juice will tell us if that is the case," she added.

The probe will search for micro-organisms in the water or ice on the moons it orbits.

Dr Britney Schmidt from the University of Texas told the BBC that there are some tiny organisms that use ice to live.

"We know that ice is a really good place [for life] to do business on Earth," she said.

"There's plenty of microbial and even some macroscopic organisms that use ice for living. It's not so hard to imagine that life like that which lives in Antarctica and in the Arctic might be very possible on Europa."