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Happy holidays from space

NASA / CXC

X-ray images from four celestial phenomena — the supernova remnants G292.0+1.8 and 3C58, the Cat's Eye Nebula and the spiral galaxy NGC 4631 — have been combined to produce this holiday graphic from the Chandra X-ray Center.

Astronomers and artists are making it easy to turn beautiful imagery from outer space into greetings for the holiday season. You just have to know where to look ... and be a little crafty yourself.

For example, the Space Telescope Science Institute is offering 25 designs based on Hubble Space Telescope imagery that are suitable for printing as greeting cards. Some of the cards incorporate the latest, greatest pictures that were sent down last year after Hubble's final servicing mission. You can print out the cards at home, but you'll get the best result if you bring the images in to a photo or print shop.

Or maybe you don't need to print out a single card. Instead, how about sending out space images as e-cards? The team behind NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory offers an assortment of e-cards for lots of occasions, ranging from Thanksgiving to Valentine's Day, from the Fourth of July to birthdays. The false-color X-ray hues make for a festive look. Heck, some of the cards are even animated.

The Space Weather Center offers more e-cards that feature astronomical images as well as high-energy experiments here on Earth.

Even astronauts appreciate getting holiday greetings, and NASA is offering an easy way to send a postcard to the International Space Station, with no postage required. Just use this Flash-enabled website to select a card and write your message. As an alternative, you can send a holiday tweet to the Twitter account used by NASA's astronauts. If you hurry, you can get your message in before three of the space station's crew members take a Thanksgiving trip back down to Earth (departure is scheduled for 8:22 p.m. ET on Turkey Day.) 

Another way to celebrate the holiday season, space-style, is to click your way through an online Advent calendar. The idea comes from the tradition of making calendars with little doors that children can open for each day from Dec. 1 to 25. A treat can be found inside each door -- with the biggest and best treat behind the door for Christmas Day, of course.

A couple of years ago, Alan Taylor at The Big Picture began the tradition of unveiling a fresh Hubble picture for each day between Dec. 1 and Christmas -- and last year, the Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla joined in on the fun with an Advent calendar featuring solar system views. (Her calendar ran all the way through the end of the year.)

I've linked to last year's offerings, but it's a safe bet that there'll be a fresh crop of glorious views for this Advent season, beginning a week from today. In fact, you just might see a different kind of spaced-out Advent calendar right here on Cosmic Log.

Speaking of calendars, I always look forward to the 12-month space calendars offered by the European Space Agency's Hubble team. The new calendar is usually posted to the SpaceTelescope.org website pretty late in the season, but this year there's a work-around. Because the days and dates line up in 2011 the same way they did in 2005, you can simply adapt the 2005 calendar files for the coming year. It doesn't hurt that the 2005 edition has some of my favorites, such as the Cat's Eye Nebula and the Red Rectangle.

Crafty, no?

If you have other suggestions for giving the holiday season a space spin, feel free to pass them along in your comments below. And if you need a little extra holiday cheer from space, check out our latest roundup of cosmic imagery for the Month in Space Pictures. Here are links to bigger versions of the images featured in this month's slideshow:


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