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Do Pluto's moons pose risks for NASA spacecraft? (+video)

Scientists are planning a new route for NASA's New Horizons space probe as it approaches a potentially perilous path toward Pluto. They aim to chart a safe, but interesting course.

Dwarf planet Pluto is a world of mystery waiting to be visited for the first time. NASA's New Horizons probe is racing across the solar system for a ground breaking close encounter that could dramatically alter what researchers "know" about Pluto and other small worlds.
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The moons of Pluto, and a potential set of rings, may create dangerous debris zones for a NASA spacecraft currently speeding toward the distant world, researchers say.

Scientists are now designing alternate courses for the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft that would steer it out of harm's way, while at the same time helping the probe explore its mysterious targets.

"We want people to understand just how interesting and how nail-biting New Horizons' mission might be," study lead author Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "This is part of the excitement of first-time exploration, of going to a new frontier."

New Horizons is the first probe ever designed to investigate worlds in the Kuiper Beltof icy bodies. After nearly seven years, the spacecraft is now more than 24 times farther away from the sun than Earth is, placing it past the orbit of Uranus. [Photos: Pluto and its 5 Moons]

Next stop: Pluto

New Horizons is currently about 1,000 days away and 730 million miles (1,180 million kilometers) from closest approach to Pluto.

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