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Endeavour's Last Flight

On Friday, NASA's space shuttle Endeavour landed in Los Angeles, California, after completing its final flight, a cross-country farewell journey with flyovers and stops in Texas, Arizona, and several locations in California. Endeavour completed its last space voyage in June of 2011, and has since been undergoing a decommissioning process in Florida, preparing to be delivered to the California Science Center. Now that the shuttle is in Los Angeles, it will undergo a few weeks of preparation before being carefully towed through city streets to its new home. Collected here are a few snapshots of Endeavour's farewell flight. (Bonus: The last four images are 3D anaglyph images, for those with a pair of red/cyan glasses handy.) [42 photos]


National Geographic Photo Contest 2012

Once again, National Geographic is holding its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 30. Beginning on September 1, the society started gathering and presenting galleries of submissions, encouraging readers to vote for them as well. National Geographic was kind enough to let me choose among its entries from 2012 for display here on In Focus. Gathered below are 50 images from the three categories of People, Places, and Nature, with captions written by the individual photographers. [50 photos]


America: 50 States in 50 Photos

In the past, I've composed many photo essays that took viewers on virtual tours of distant countries. Today, I decided to do the same thing, but focus closer to home, collecting one recent photograph from each of the 50 states in the United States of America. The photographs are not necessarily meant to represent the whole of any state. They are simply interesting, noteworthy, beautiful, or otherwise caught my eye. Sit back and enjoy a quick jaunt around the USA in 50 photographs from mid-2012. [50 photos]


Mali After the Coup

Mali, a West African nation of 15 million people, is facing serious hardship following a March coup d'etat that has since collapsed. Islamist militant groups have filled the void, forming an extremist mini-state in northern Mali, resulting in sanctions imposed by other African nations. The collapse of state governance has chased away foreign investment, and tourism has dropped precipitously. Djenne, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, saw its annual tourist count drop from more than 10,000 to fewer than 20 total foreign visitors this year. Although Mali's cotton and gold industries appear to be weathering the insecurity well so far, future development is on hold as the interim government in the south works to resolve issues with the patchwork of militant Islamists and Tuareg separatists who rule the north. Reuters photographer Joe Penney has spent months in Mali this year, returning with many photos such as these collected here. [28 photos]


Anti-Japan Protests in China

A long-standing conflict over the sovereignty of a group of eight tiny, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea has resulted in dozens of anti-Japanese protests across China, some violent. The dispute came to a head after the Japanese government nationalized control of three of the largest islands earlier this month, purchasing them from a private Japanese family for more than US$25 million. The island group is called Senkaku Islands by the Japanese, Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese, Tiaoyutai Islands by Taiwanese, or the Pinnacle Islands by English speakers. Beyond national pride, potentially large gas reserves and fishing rights have raised the stakes, and China is now moving to assert its claim to the islands, contain the demonstrations at home, and respond forcefully to what it sees as a major Japanese provocation. [36 photos]


Muslim Protests Spread Around the Globe

Outrage in the Muslim community, stoked by a crude anti-Islam video mocking the prophet Muhammad, has spread across much of the globe today. Starting earlier this week in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, protesters stormed embassies, resulting in multiple deaths, four of them American. Since then, demonstrations have erupted in more than two dozen countries -- ranging from small peaceful gatherings to violent attacks on western targets. Host nations have been struggling to defend western consulates after thousands took to the streets following Friday prayers. Gathered here are scenes of this growing unrest over the past few days. [36 photos]


Around the Solar System

Robotic probes launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and others are gathering information all across the solar system. We currently have spacecraft in orbit around the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Saturn -- and one new rover recently landed on Mars. Several others are on their way to smaller bodies, and a few are heading out of the solar system entirely. Although the Space Shuttle no longer flies, astronauts are still at work aboard the International Space Station, performing experiments and sending back amazing photos. With all these eyes in the sky, I'd like to take another opportunity to put together a recent photo album of our solar system -- a set of family portraits, of sorts -- as seen by our astronauts and mechanical emissaries. This time, we have some great shots from the new Mars rover Curiosity, a parting shot of the asteroid Vesta, some glimpses of Saturn and its moons, and lovely images of our home, planet Earth. [33 photos]


One World Trade Center: Construction Progress

Tomorrow will mark the 11th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. After years of effort and numerous setbacks, three of the proposed seven towers to be built at the World Trade Center complex have "topped out," reaching their structural maximum height. Seven WTC was completed in 2006, Four WTC topped out in June of this year, and the tallest, One World Trade Center (formerly known as Freedom Tower), just topped out at 104 floors on August 30. Financial difficulties have left the future of the remaining towers in doubt, and have raised concerns about the still-incomplete National September 11 Memorial and Museum, as the foundation that runs the memorial estimates that it will cost $60 million a year to operate. Gathered below are recent images of the rebuilding at ground zero in New York City. [33 photos]


The 2012 Summer Paralympics

As the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games reach day 7, an estimated 4,200 athletes representing 167 countries are now competing in London. Competitions have already taken place in cycling, sailing, track and field, swimming, archery, and many more. The Games, which continue until September 9, are designed for athletes with disabilities and feature 20 sports in all. Collected here is just a small glimpse of these inspirational "superhuman" athletes as they take part in the 2012 Summer Paralympics. [54 photos]


Burning Man 2012

Out on the playa of Nevada's Black Rock Desert, more than 50,000 participants gathered last week to form Black Rock City, a temporary city that became the home of the 26th annual Burning Man Festival. Every year, participants from around the world descend on the playa -- performers, artists, free spirits, and more -- to form a self-reliant community, to dance, to express themselves and take in the spectacle of the festival. Reuters photographer Jim Urquhart spent the week on the playa, and returned with these photographs, taking us along on a virtual visit to Burning Man 2012. [40 photos]


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