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Holiday calendar: Holy Land from on high

"Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plains..." This view from the shuttle Atlantis, captured during a 1996 mission to Russia's now-defunct Mir space station, shows what the angels from the Christmas carol might have seen if they were more than 200 miles above the Holy Land. The Dead Sea is just to the right of Atlantis' tail in this photograph, which was taken looking back from the space shuttle's cabin.

This view takes in all the key spots in the Nativity story, including Bethlehem on the Palestinian West Bank, where the Gospels say Jesus was born; and Nazareth in northern Israel, where he is said to have grown up. The shuttle's resolution isn't fine enough to make out those present-day cities, however. Even Jerusalem is hard to spot. For higher-resolution views, check out the satellite images of Nazareth and Bethlehem from the Sacred Destinations website, or this false-color image of Jerusalem captured by the ASTER instrument on NASA's Terra satellite.

Today's space shuttle view is one of the final visual treats in our Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar. For additional views of Earth from space, check out these past offerings. We've also included links to other online Advent calendars that have been serving up space images daily since the beginning of the month:

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