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Look down on a ruined Maya city

GeoEye

Mayapan's ruins are surrounded by forests in this picture, captured by GeoEye's Ikonos satellite on Sept. 19, 2001.



This satellite image of the ruins of Mayapan, on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, hints at the apocalypse that befell a Maya kingdom hundreds of years ago.

Mayapan is considered Mexico's last Maya capital, and represents one of the largest assemblages of Maya ruins in the Yucatan. The city was built after the Maya revolted against the lords of Chichen Itza. The largest pyramid is the Castle ("El Castillo") of Kukulkan, made as a smaller replica of Chichen Itza's El Castillo pyramid. Mayapan also is home to many circular buildings, or observatories. The Maya's astronomical knowledge helped them predict the exact time of solar and planetary events and aided in the creation of precise calendars.

 The city reached its zenith in the 13th century, but in the mid-1400s, factional strife led to Mayapan's decline. The rulers were killed off by a rival family during a revolt, important buildings were set ablaze, and the city was largely abandoned. By the year 1500, an epidemic drove out the stragglers. The University at Albany's Mayapan Archaeology website delves more deeply into the city's life and death.

This overhead view of Mayapan was captured by GeoEye's Ikonos satellite in 2001, from a height of 423 miles (681 kilometers). It serves as a tribute to the Maya calendar turnover on Dec. 21, as a celebration of the day's non-apocalypse — and as the latest addition to the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar, which has been serving up views of Earth from space on a daily basis during the holiday season. Follow the links below to catch up on the calendar's previous 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 dwarf planets and the search for new worlds.