Kepler has First Light. It is On! Team is a Go! Photons are Arriving!

This provocativly-titled NASA release states "NASA's Kepler Captures First Views of Planet-Hunting Territory", and has a good explanation of Kepler's capabilities. What I wish to tackle is why Kepler matters.

Kepler is a new space telescope with an awesomely wide field of view, seeing a huge 100 square degrees in a single frame, then zooming in closer with two other 'scopes. It is primarily a planet-hunting mission, but there will be much good science coming from Kepler-- some of which we can't even imagine yet.

The most crowded collision of galaxy clusters has been identified by combining information from three different telescopes. This result gives scientists a chance to learn what happens when some of the largest objects in the Universe go at each other in a cosmic free-for-all.

Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, astronomers were able to determine the three-dimensional geometry and motion in the system MACSJ0717.5+3745 (or MACSJ0717 for short) located about 5.4 billion light years from Earth.
If you happened to visit this site earlier today, you may have found it devoid of a suitable banner. That is because I took some time pondering on that design detail for this new site. I wanted something that resembled the banner of the old site which hosted my blog, over at wordpress, which showed a starry field; but I also wanted to convey some personality with it -no more anonymous pictures stolen from a prepackaged theme (Regulus in that case); and possibly, some meaning.
Given my title, I believe this is my first official rant. NASA ran a press conference on STEREO today. As the First 3D Reconstruction of a CME, it... okay, let me pause here. There have been 3D reconstructions of CMEs since the SOHO era. And there are at least 7 papers in the literature using some variant of the words 'First STEREO reconstruction of a CME'.
Twin NASA spacecraft have provided scientists with a view of the speed, trajectory, and three-dimensional shape of powerful explosions from the sun known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. This new capability will dramatically enhance scientists' ability to predict if and how these solar tsunamis could affect Earth.

When directed toward our planet, these ejections can be breathtakingly beautiful and yet potentially cause damaging effects worldwide. The brightly colored phenomena known as auroras -- more commonly called Northern or Southern Lights -- are examples of Earth's upper atmosphere harmlessly being disturbed by a CME. However, ejections can produce a form of solar cosmic rays that can be hazardous to spacecraft, astronauts and technology on Earth.

The NASA STEREO mission (my mission!) is visiting L4 and L5. These are the Lagrange points are where the Earth and Sun gravitationally balance each other out.  SOHO hangs out at L1, between Earth and Sun (but very near Earth).  L4 and L5 are about 60 degrees ahead and behind the Earth's position in its orbit.L4 L5 illustration
A research team say they have found a sample of massive galaxies with properties that suggest that they may have formed relatively recently, which runs counter to the widely-held belief that massive, luminous galaxies (like our own Milky Way) began their formation and evolution shortly after the Big Bang, some 13 billion years ago. Further research into the nature of these objects could open new windows into the study of the origin and early evolution of galaxies. 
Where does space begin? Scientists at the University of Calgary have created a new instrument that is able to track the transition between the relatively gentle winds of Earth's atmosphere and the more violent flows of charged particles in space – flows that can reach speeds well over 1000 km/hr. And they have accomplished this in unprecedented detail. 

Data received from the U of C-designed instrument sent to space on a NASA launch from Alaska about two years ago was able to help pinpoint the so-called edge of space: the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

With that data, U of C scientists confirmed that space begins 118 km above Earth.

The International Year of Astronomy continues its celebration with a photo of triple galaxy group April 1 and 2. 140,000 people around the world voted on six potential targets; the Arp 274 galaxy group won with 67,000 votes.

Photo from Wired

For some reason I really want a Milky Way Dairy Queen Blizzard... Thanks to Wired for the photo and the following description.

On March 17th 2009 Europe's first geodetic satellite was successfully launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. The first stages of putting the satellite in a stable recording orbit are proceeding according to plans. So far, so good.

GOCE inside
Credit: ESA - AOES Medialab