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Holiday calendar: O Holy Night!

NASA Earth Observatory / NOAA

Egypt's Nile River valley and delta takes center stage in this night-light picture of the Middle East. The image was acquired on Oct. 13 by the Suomi NPP satellite's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. The city lights of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem shine above and to the right of the Nile, while the island of Cyprus glows in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The lights seen in this image have been brightened during processing to make the city lights easier to distinguish.



This outer-space view from the Suomi NPP satellite gives you much of the Middle East at one glance, with Egypt's Nile River Valley and Delta shining as the centerpiece.

The black-and-white image was captured on Oct. 13 and unveiled this week as part of NASA's "Black Marble" project. Suomi's VIIRS imaging instrument is well-suited to spot the glow of city lights as well as fires and other light sources in the night, and the satellite documented the nighttime glow around the globe during dozens of passes in April and October. The pictures from all those passes were assembled to create an all-around view of our planet at night.

This particular view takes in the Nile all the way down from Alexandria and the broad river delta, through Cairo, through to the Nile's big bend at Luxor and onward to the Aswan Dam. But there's much more to this picture than the Nile: Tel Aviv and Israel glitter to the right of the Nile Delta, which makes this picture particularly fitting for Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. The island of Cyprus is an oasis of light in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, with the Turkish coast above. Athens shines out in the upper left corner. And in the lower right corner, a string of lights leads from the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah to Mecca.

Who knew that one picture could take in so many of the world's historical centers of holiness and wisdom?

Suomi's view of the whole Holy Land serves as today's offering for the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar, which presents a fresh view of Earth as seen from space every day from now until Christmas. There's much more to the Black Marble project: For additional imagery, check out NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Flickr photo gallery or the NASA Earth Observatory. To explore a clickable, zoomable, 1.46-gigapixel version of the globe at night, head on over to the GigaPan website. And to find out what the not-so-black Black Marble is telling us about light pollution, check in with the International Dark-Sky Association.

More space calendar entries:


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.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. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other science and space news coverage, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered via email. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.