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Satellite shot of rolling river takes the prize

The past year has produced stunning as well as scary pictures from space, including satellite views of the protests in Cairo, the damage done to Japan's tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear complex and New York's Ground Zero site 10 years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. But these weren't the pictures that won top honors from the DigitalGlobe commercial satellite venture and its Facebook fans. Instead, DigitalGlobe's top image of 2011 is a shot of the Rakaia River rolling like a ribbon through New Zealand's Canterbury Plains.

The Rakaia is one of the largest braided rivers in New Zealand, traveling almost 100 miles from the Southern Alps to enter the Pacific Ocean about 30 miles south of Christchurch. DigitalGlobe's picture clearly shows braids of blue water trickling through a wide sedimentary bed as it approaches the sea. To learn more about the Rakaia, check out DigitalGlobe's blog item announcing the winner, and graze through DigitalGlobe's Flickr gallery to see the other finalists.

Another commercial satellite company, GeoEye, has put together its own selection of top images for its 2012 calendar gallery.

We featured a lot of great satellite pictures from GeoEye as well as DigitalGlobe last month in our Holiday Calendar series, and the hits just keep on coming. For a daily dose of Earth imagery from space, check in with NASA's Earth Observatory and the MODIS satellite website, supplemented by the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth and the Fragile Oasis Facebook page.

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.