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Holiday calendar: Madagascar's monster

Madagascar's largest river looks like a many-tentacled jellyfish as it flows into Bombetoka Bay, in a satellite image from Japan's now-defunct ALOS satellite, also known as DAICHI. The Malagasy monster is today's treat from the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar.

The tentacles are actually the channels of the Betsiboka River estuary in northwest Madagascar. In its image advisory, the European Space Agency says the reddish coloring of the sandbars and islands between the channels comes from the sediments washed down from the hills as the Betsiboka follows its 325-mile course. A bit of the seaport city of Mahajanga is visible in the upper left corner of the picture — which was taken on Sept. 17, 2010, from an altitude of about 430 miles. For more views of the Betsiboka estuary, check out this Landsat image from 2003 and yet another perspective from NASA's Terra satellite.

Scientists consider the island of Madagascar to be a treasure trove for new species, in large part because it's been biologically isolated from the African mainland for millions of years. More than 600 new species have been identified there over the past dozen years. But many of Madagascar's unique species may be literally lost before they're found, due to deforestation and other environmental threats. For more about Madagascar's endangered biological riches, click your way through this story and slideshow.

The Japanese ALOS satellite has already been lost: The spacecraft was launched in 2006 to create digital elevation maps of Earth's surface, but abruptly lost power in April while mapping Japan's tsunami-hit coastline. In October, the Japan Coast Guard beamed a final "thank-you" message to the dead satellite for its five years of service.

Every day from now until Christmas, the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar will be featuring pictures of Earth as seen from space. Check back on Monday for the next picture, and check out these related links:

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