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Holiday calendar: Peace over Earth

Woes may weigh heavy on the world at ground level, but from 22,000 miles up, even the strongest storm is a mere swirl of white on our beautiful blue planet.

This is a view of Earth on Christmas morning, blending archival imagery of Earth's surface from the MODIS instruments on NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites with hot-off-the-spacecraft weather data from NOAA's GOES-East satellite. You can see clouds streaming over the southeastern U.S. That's the storm front that brought a white Christmas to the Southwest; now it's bringing a soggy holiday to a region from Texas to Georgia. (For updates on the weather in your area and around the globe, check out msnbc.com's Weather section as well as the Weather Channel's website.)

NASA assembles the GOES-on-MODIS imagery automatically on a 24/7 basis and posts regular updates to its GOES Project Science website. You can even watch an animation that tracks weather systems as they sweep around the globe.

The world looks so peaceful from orbital heights. In fact, there's a name for the positive change in perspective that comes over astronauts when they see Earth from far above: the Overview Effect. Here's how the effect is described by the Overview Institute:

"It refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, the astronauts tell us, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide us become less important and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this 'pale blue dot' becomes both obvious and imperative. Even more so, many of them tell us that from the Overview perspective, all of this seems imminently achievable, if only more people could have the experience!"

We wish you all the best for the holiday season and the new year. Here's hoping that over the past 25 days, the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar has given you fresh perspectives on the world, a renewed sense of wonder ... and maybe even a little taste of the Overview Effect.

The complete 2011 Space Advent Calendar and more:


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.