NASA's New Horizons probe dominated the news cycle this week, after making a successful close encounter with Pluto and sending back incredible images and science data. Plus, an astronaut mining company launched a tech-testing satellite; the Philae lander phoned home; scientists may have discovered a Jupiter twin; and there was some significant "Star Wars" fanfare at San Diego Comic Con. Here are Space.com's top stories of the week.
Pluto close encounter a success!
The biggest news in science this week was the success of the New Horizons probe in its close encounter with Pluto. The space probe "phoned home" about 13 hours after it made its close approach to the dwarf planet, and let everyone at mission control know that everything had gone as planned. [Full Story: Pluto Flyby Success! NASA Probe Phones Home After Epic Encounter]
Amazing images of Pluto and Charon
This is what the world has been waiting for: The incredible new images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, taken by the New Horizons space probe. [Full Story: Flying By Pluto-Charon - 4 Days Of Images Compiled | Video]
Pluto and Charon defy expectations
With only a few preliminary photos, Pluto and Charon are already challenging what scientists thought they knew about icy worlds in our solar system. [New Photos of Pluto and Moon Surprise, Puzzle Scientist]
Naming Pluto's heart
The heart-shaped region on the surface of Pluto has been unofficially named after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the dwarf planet in 1930. [Full Story: Revealed by New Horizons, Pluto's 'Heart' Named for Planet's Discoverer]
Funding for futuristic tech
NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program or NIAC offers funding for bold ideas, such as a submarine that would explore the hydrocarbon seas of Saturn's moon, Titan. Seven far-out projects recently received Phase II NIAC funding. [Full Story: NASA Funds Titan Submarine, Other Far-Out Space Exploration Ideas]
Philae lives! Again!
The Philae lander plopped down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November, but landed in a shady region where its solar panels couldn't recharge. However, the probe has recently been gaining power as the comet moves closer to the sun, and the European Space Agency reported another signal from the little lander on June 13. [Full Story: Philae Comet Lander Phones Home to Earth Again]
Asteroid satellite ships out
A private spaceflight company launched a spacecraft from the International Space Station that will help test asteroid mining technology. [Full Story: Asteroid Mining Company's 1st Satellite Launches from Space Station]
A thaw in the cold war
July 17, 2015 marks the 40 year anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project meet up, when American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts rendezvoused in space. [Full Story: Apollo-Soyuz Spawned 1st Handshake in Space by US-Soviet Crews 40 Years Ago]
In galaxy collisions, size matters
When galaxies collide, the big guys come out on top, according to a new study. New star formation accelerates in two galaxies that merge together, but the new research shows that the rate of star formation is dependent on how much bigger one galaxy is than the other. [Full Story: Cosmic Giant Takes on Galactic Dwarf in Adorable Video]
Here comes Jupiter
NASA's Juno space probe is less than one year away from a rendezvous with Jupiter. The spacecraft is scheduled to slip into orbit around the gas giant on July 4, 2016, where it will map the planet's gravitational and magnetic fields. [Full Story: NASA Spacecraft Less Than 1 Year from Jupiter]
Solar system 2.0?
Astronomers may have spotted a planet roughly the same size as Jupiter, orbiting at roughly the same distance from its sun-like parent star. The scientists say the composition of the star, which is also similar to our own sun, may indicate that there are smaller, rocky planets in the system as well. [Full Story: Jupiter's 'Twin' Found: Is This Solar System 2.0?]
The Force is strong here
Cast members of the original "Star Wars" movie trilogy gave fans at San Diego Comic Con a thrill during a panel to discuss the new installment of the franchise, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," due out in December. [Full Story: Star Wars Invades Comic Con - Hamill, Ford and More | Video]