Gentlemen, 2017 was kind of a rough year for, well … everything. There were the revelations that many powerful, respected (and a few beloved) men from the arenas of entertainment, government, and the media were in fact loathsome predators. There was violence. There was vitriol. And let’s not even talk about politics, especially the oblique way in which a certain (awful) administration casts a shadow over all the rest of it. On the scientific and cultural fronts, 2017 saw America backslide from global climate change commitments and disengage from the embrace of diversity and acceptance that slowly, but steadily, developed over the preceding years.
But hey, 2017 is history, and there’s plenty of reason to believe 2018 will be a much better year, if only because being worse would require an asteroid impact or smallpox pandemic. (Also those midterm things, but I said no politics.) In the realms of culture and science, we are on the precipice of a few milestones that will long be marked as major successes in the annals of history. So let’s look ahead to a few of the good things we can expect from 2018. (But keep your helmet handy …)
The Blue Moon Eclipse of January 2018
If you’re an astronomy nerd and you live (or will be visiting) anywhere from the central Pacific Ocean and the eastern reaches of Asia, then you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat later this month. On January 31, that region of our planet will experience a blue moon total lunar eclipse. A blue moon is the second full moon of a single month, and as the expression conveying rarity “once in a blue moon” aptly conveys, they are rare. A blue moon being totally eclipsed by the path of planet earth is wildly rare. The last time it happened was about a year after the end of the American Civil War (which concluded in 1865 for those of you who really need to brush up on your history). Folks residing in other areas, such as the west coast of America, will enjoy a partial blue moon eclipse, by the way, so don’t feel you need to head for Fiji to enjoy it. But you could.
Marriage Equality Becomes Mainstream
This month, January 2018, Australia will enjoy its first legal same-sex marriages, thereby establishing a world where marriage equality exists in at least one country on every continent on earth. (And in the case of the Aussies, in every country on said continent. Also true in North America! Side bar: It’s not much of an issue on Antarctica.) Though many more nations continue to limit marriage equality than those that grant it, the tide is turning. In 2018, there are same-sex marriage initiatives working their way through political apparatuses in multiple of nations, including Chile, Switzerland, Taiwan, and beyond. Still a long road ahead, but we’re moving in the right direction.
Origins of Life on Earth?
On December 3, 2014, JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched a space probe named Hayabusa2. This probe is scheduled to rendezvous with an asteroid known as 1999 JU3 in July of this year. On September 8, 2016, NASA launched a probe called OSIRIS-REx, which is scheduled to land on an asteroid named 101955 Bennu in August 2018. Landing a space probe on an asteroid is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, but what makes these twin missions truly amazing and unprecedented is that they aren’t one-way trips. Both the Hayabusa2 and the OSIRIS-REx are slated to return materials mined from their asteroids back to Earth for extensive study by scientists. What might these materials reveal? Oh, maybe the origins of life. Scientists have long theorized that the elemental materials needed to start off the biological evolution that led to you reading these words were delivered by space objects such as these, and in a few more short years, we might finally know.
An AIDS Vaccine and Cure
This year may well be the year that human beings win the fight against the horrific AIDS. An outright death sentence just a few decades ago, today the virus that leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome can already be managed with a batter of antiretroviral medications. However, these are expensive, hard to access in poor and developing nations, and are a treatment, not a cure. This year, scientists from the National Institutes of Health look poised to green light the use of a medication that will be effective not only in curing those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, but in vaccinating people against acquisition of the virus in the first place.
The Beginning of the End of Endemic Sexual Harassment
If 2017 was the year that women (and men) all across America said “enough” to sexual harassment — especially to harassment endured in the workplace at the hands of high-ranking men — perhaps 2018 will be the year the harassment (and assault) starts to stop. It’s hard to imagine how many stories of unwanted touching, words, and worse have yet to come out, but with the #MeToo and #NoMore movements now recognized globally, we can at least hope that would-be perpetrators have been sufficiently put on notice to back off. Now, will this year really mark the end of sexual harassment? No, not it won’t. But it might mark the end of the tolerance, and even tacit approval, of such formerly endemic acts in myriad institutions.