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Holiday calendar: North Pole revealed

Thoughts are turning to Santa Claus and his North Pole operation this weekend, and this full-frontal picture from NASA's Terra satellite puts the pole front and center.

It's actually not an easy thing for satellites to get this kind of picture, even for a polar-orbiting satellite like Terra. At this scale, the scene would always be partly shrouded in night. And at this time of year, the North Pole is in full winter darkness. But on June 30, Terra captured polar imagery during a series of passes, allowing NASA experts to create a mosaic that shows the entire sweep of the Arctic in full illumination.

The geographical pole is roughly in the center of this picture. Greenland and its ice shelf point down to the lower left corner, like a clock hand in the 7 o'clock position. Parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland and the islands of the Canadian Arctic can be seen through the clouds. It can be difficult to distinguish between the clouds and the ice, but generally speaking, the ice is a smooth white while the clouds are more swirly. One of the clouds, no doubt, is shielding Santa's secret workshop from view.

This polar perspective serves as today's offering from the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar, which has been highlighting images of Earth from space all this month. We'll be finishing up this year's calendar with entries for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Click on the links below to catch up with the pictures you've missed:


Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.