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There are now over one billion automobiles on the road worldwide. An explosion in the auto markets in China and India ensures that number will increase, with China supplanting the United States as the world's largest car market. It's fair to say humanity has a love affair with the car, but it's a love-hate relationship. Cars are at once convenience, art, and menace. People write songs about their vehicles, put them in museums, race them, and wrap their identities up in them. About 15% of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels comes from cars. Traffic fatality estimates vary from half a million per year to more than double that. Gathered here are images of the automobile in many forms, and our relationship to and dependence on our cars. This is the second in an occasional Big Picture series on transportation, following Pedal power earlier this year. -- Lane Turner (40 photos total)
Antti Rahko stands next to his self-made "Finnjet" during preparations for the Essen Motor Show in Essen, Germany on November 22, 2012. The car rolls on eight wheels, offers ten seats, weighs 3.4 tons and is worth about one million US dollars. (Marius Becker/AFP/Getty Images)

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April 22 will mark Earth Day worldwide, an event now in its 42nd year and observed in 175 countries. The original grass-roots environmental action helped spur the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act in the United States. Gathered here are images of our planet's environment, efforts to utilize renewable alternative sources of energy, and the effects of different forms of pollution. -- Lane Turner and Leanne Burden Seidel (35 photos total)
A ladybug in flight spreads its wings as it flutters from grass blade to grass blade at Rooks Park in Walla Walla, Wash. on April 2, 2012. (Jeff Horner/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin/Associated Press)

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A 27-foot mirror for the Giant Magellan Telescope was cast on Jan. 14 inside a rotating furnace at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. A round furnace the size of a carousel spinning 21 tons of borosilicate glass heated to 2,140 degrees Fahrenheit slowly melted into a mold to create the giant telescope mirror. The unique fabrication process in the one-of-a-kind furnace results in a lightweight glass structure that can float in water, but is very stiff and able to adjust to changes in the nighttime air. The mirror is one of seven that together will make the largest telescope ever built, the Giant Magellan Telescope, slated to begin observations in 2020 at the Las Campanas Observatory in northern Chile, above the Atacama Desert where there is little to hinder the view into the night sky.

“In this design the outer six mirrors are off-axis paraboloids and represent the greatest optics challenge ever undertaken in astronomical
optics by a large factor,” said Roger Angel, director of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. The GMT will allow astronomers to answer some of the most pressing questions about the cosmos including the detection, imaging and characterization of planets orbiting other stars, the nature of dark matter and dark energy, the physics of black holes, and how stars and
galaxies evolved during the earliest phases of the universe.


GMT2 installation of honeycomb columns prior to casting at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. Ray Bertram/Steward Observatory


GMT2 installation of mold columns–about half way through the installation of more than 1600 individual columns. Ray Bertram/Steward Observatory


Unpacking, inspecting, and sorting Ohara E6 glass. Randy Lutz, Mirror Lab casting team manager, views each piece of glass with polarized light to help evaluate the glass for evidence of internal stress and other imperfections. Ray Bertram/Steward Observatory


Loading the Ohara E6 glass. Each piece of glass has been inspected and graded, then placed into position over the tops of the mold columns according to a predetermined distribution pattern. Ray Bertram/Steward Observatory


Glass loading completed; oven lid is lowered for the final preparations prior to heating and spinning the oven. The oven lid electrical heating coils and thermocouple probes are clearly visible in this view. Ray Bertram/Steward Observatory


The UA’s Steward Mirror Lab makes the world’s only honeycomb mirrors in a process called spin casting inside this spinning furnace built in the 1980s. Patrick McArdle/UANews


GMT1 on LPM (Large Polishing Machine) using small orbital polishing tool for precision zone polishing. Ray Bertram/Steward Observatory

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More than 500 teams are currently speeding across the deserts of Argentina, Chile, and Peru, racing more than 8,300 km (5,150 mi) in the 33rd annual Dakar Rally. Competitors pit themselves against the elements, driving specialized off-road cars, trucks, motorcycles, and quadbikes through challenging terrain for two weeks. One rider, Argentine Jorge Martinez Boero, has already died this year in a crash. The 2012 Dakar Rally began in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on January 1, and racers reached the finish line in Lima, Peru, on Sunday, January 15. [41 photos]

Stefan Svitko rides his KTM during the 10th stage of the Dakar Rally 2012, from Iquique to Arica, Chile, on January 11, 2012. (Reuters/Jerome Prevot)

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