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Holiday calendar: Viva Las Vegas


The lights of Las Vegas have an angelic glow when viewed at night from the International Space Station.

Have you been naughty or nice? Visitors to Las Vegas might have to scratch their heads and think twice before they offer up an answer. The desert city is famous for its casinos and nightclubs full of indulgences that would leave Santa shaking his finger with a knowing twinkle in his eye. When viewed from above at night, Sin City simply twinkles with millions of forgiving lights, as seen in this Nov. 10 image from the International Space Station.

Since Las Vegas is surrounded by desert, the brightly lit city pops out like a sparkling pendant on a black dress. The Strip — the 4-mile-long section of Las Vegas Boulevard where a few dozen of the world's largest hotels and casinos are located — is reputed to be the brightest spot on Earth. Its radiance will get another boost on Wednesday when the $3.9 billion, 2,995-room Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opens for business.

To make this and other nighttime images, astronauts track their target with a handheld camera as the space station zips along at more than 15,000 miles per hour relative to Earth’s surface. Advances in digital camera technology — combined with experience —have make it easier for space station crews to acquire striking images of Earth at night.

For those of us wishing we could forget what happened in Vegas ... well, let's just hope the crew doesn't take any close-ups.

Check in with Photoblog and Cosmic Log every day until Christmas for a new view of Earth as seen from outer space -- and check out the links below for the previous pictures in our Advent calendar, as well as three other online calendars with space themes:

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).