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Earth, a Snapshot: The World on the Eve of 2011

Farewell, 2010! Hello, 2011. (Image credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project.)

On the morning of Dec. 30, 2010, a satellite captured this stunning portrait of our planet.

The serene, full-disk image of North and South America and their surrounding oceans belies the tumultuous events this hemisphere has seen over the last year devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, a massive break in Greenland's ice sheet , a busy hurricane season and two crippling blizzards that ground life on much of the East Coast to a halt.

In the image above, you can see cloud cover associated with low pressure areas over the upper Midwestern United States and Colorado's Rocky Mountains, which could bring severe weather to those regions. Bitter cold is expected out west, and some forecasters predict hail and even tornadoes in the country's central plains.

But whatever the weather does, with just one more spin on its axis the Earth will enter the New Year. What will 2011 hold for a planet with a population predicted to reach 7 billion? What discoveries will be made? What new species will we find?

As the satellites streak through the silence of space above our heads, and send back breathtaking pictures like this one, we will be keeping track of the clamor here below the stories of change, discovery and exploration on this pretty amazing planet we call home.

Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.