2020: A Year in Review

A Year of Disasters

Montage of Australian Bushfires
Montage created by Patrickgom0, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The year was dominated by a global pandemic, but that was not the only disaster that faced us. The year opened with the ongoing wildfires that engulfed Australia, known as the “Black Summer.” More than half a billion animals were killed, and species were driven nearly to extinction as much of the continent burned, forcing mass evacuations. The COVID-19 pandemic began with the first reports of the disease emerging from Wuhan, China, on January 9th. By the 30th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, only the sixth time they had issued such a declaration in the past twenty years.

Image of a virus
Image Credit: NIAID

The virus spread rapidly around the planet, with the WHO officially declaring it a pandemic on March 11th; by the 26th, confirmed cases reached five hundred thousand, and twenty-three thousand had died. The confirmed cases expanded to one million on April 2nd, doubled to two million less than two weeks later on the 15th, then to three million on the 27th, while the death toll ballooned to one hundred thousand on the tenth, and two hundred thousand on the 25th. It continued its exponential spread into the spring, reaching four million cases on May 10th, then six million on May 31st, with the death toll hitting three hundred thousand on May 14th.

Image of an Asian giant hornet
Ken Ishigaki, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the Asian giant hornets, nicknamed “murder hornets” in the media due to their propensity for attacking and killing the much smaller honeybees and their exceptionally painful stings, were found to have survived the winter in the Pacific Northwest after having been transplanted into North America, when Asian giant hornet queens were found in Custer, Washington, on May 29th, then in Bellingham, Washington, on June 6th. The first Asian giant hornet was later discovered in Canada when one was found in Langley, British Columbia on June 15th.

June saw COVID-19 cases continue to rise, reaching ten million by the end of the month, with the death toll climbing to five hundred thousand. The spread continued to fifteen million by the end of July, and the death toll rose to six hundred thousand. The port of Beirut, Lebanon, was devastated on August 4th when unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate caused a series of catastrophic explosions that killed 220 people and left thousands injured, three hundred thousand homeless, and caused an estimated $10-15 billion in damage.

Another ten million people were diagnosed with COVID-19 by the end of August, and the death toll rose to eight hundred thousand by the end of the month. In September, cases climbed to thirty million, then forty-five million in October, and sixty million by the end of November, with the death toll reaching one million in September, and passing 1.5 million in early December.

The year ended on a hopeful note, with the first successful Phase III trial of a COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech, showing a 90% success rate on November 8th. Another vaccine from Moderna proved to be 94.5% effective on the 16th.


A number of famous people passed away in 2020:


7: Neal Peart
9: Mike Resnick
21: Terry Jones
26: Kobe Bryant


5: Kirk Douglas
24: Clive Cussler
28: Freeman Dyson


8: Max von Sydow
20: Kenny Rogers


29: Irrfan Khan


9: Little Richard


19: Ian Holm
29: Carl Reiner


13: Grant Imahara


1: Wilford Brimley
18: Ben Cross
28: Chadwick Boseman


17: Terry Goodkind
18: Ruth Bader Ginsburg


6: Eddie Van Halen
31: Sean Connery


8: Alex Trebek
28: David Prowse


5: David L. Lander
7: Chuck Yeager

A Year of Political Crises

House of Representatives Votes to Adopt the Articles of Impeachment Against Donald Trump.
Credit: Public Domain

The year’s political crises began with the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate from January 16th through February 5th. Even before the trial began, Republican Senators made it clear that they had no intention of convicting him of the charges levied in December by the House of Representatives, so the lack of a conviction surprised no one. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom formally withdrew from the European Union on January 31st.

Stock market charts
Katrina.Tuliao, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

On February 24th, Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault, and a month later was sentenced to twenty-three years in prison. On February 27th, the first of several stock market crashes occurred, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped by 1190.95 points. Less than two weeks later, on March 9th, the DJIA dropped more than two thousand points. The global markets crashed as well on March 12th, the day after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and the DJIA dropped 2300 points. Four days later, it dropped again, this time by 2997.10 points, a larger drop even than 1929’s Black Tuesday, which sparked the Great Depression.

May saw the outbreak of protests across the United States, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police on May 26th, which was captured on video and posted online. The protests would continue throughout the remainder of the year, and would influence political campaigns, from local races all the way up to the presidential election.

Official portrait of Vice President Joe Biden in his West Wing Office at the White House, Jan. 10, 2013.
Official White House Photo by David Lienemann

On November 3rd, following a month of rhetoric concerning a marked increase in the use of absentee ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person voting occurred for the U.S. presidential election. While voting ended on the 3rd, counting of ballots would continue through the 7th, when Joe Biden was declared the winner, and the 46th president. Trump refused to concede, however, and continued to do so well into December, spreading a false narrative of fraud and filing dozens of lawsuits in six states, all of which would be thrown out.

A Year of Scientific Exploration

On April 27th, the U.S. Navy released three videos of encounters by its pilots with unidentified flying craft. Three days later, on April 30th, NASA selected SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics to build a next-generation lunar lander, with a goal of landing on the Moon in 2024.

The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is the first Commercial Crew vehicle to visit the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

A fossil of the oldest known land animal was discovered in Scotland on May 15th: a 425-million-year-old, 2.5 centimeter long millipede from the Kampecaris genus. May 30th saw the first crewed flight of the SpaceX Dragon 2, and on July 30th, NASA launched the Mars 2020 rover mission to search for signs of ancient life, collect samples for return to Earth, and to demonstrate technology for future manned missions.

Phosphene was detected in Venus’ atmosphere on September 14th, which was a strong indicator of the potential presence of microbial life. On October 20th, the NASA probe OSIRIS-REx touched down on the asteroid Bennu, the first time a NASA probe retrieved samples from an asteroid. Days later, on October 26th, NASA confirmed the presence of water molecules on the Moon, near Clavius crater.

On November 15th, NASA and SpaceX launched the SpaceX Crew-1 to the International Space Station, the first operational flight of the Crew Dragon capsule. November 30th saw a penumbral lunar eclipse, the last of four total lunar eclipses in 2020.

This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020.
Tedder, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed on December 1st, shortly after the decision was made to decommission the telescope due to failures in the cables that suspended the receiver array above the dish.  A total solar eclipse was visible from the southern hemisphere on December 14th, followed by a great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which were separated by 0.1 degree, the closest they had been to one another, as seen from Earth, since 1623.

A Year of Entertainment

Ensigns D'Vana Tendi, Sam Rutherford, Beckett Mariner, and Brad Boimler from Star Trek: Lower Decks
Credit: CBS Interactive

Multiple Star Trek series aired in 2020, beginning with the premiere of Star Trek: Picard on January 22nd, then Star Trek: Lower Decks, the first animated Star Trek series since 1974, on August 5th, and the third season of Star Trek: Discovery on October 14th. September 8th marked the franchise’s 54th anniversary, which was celebrated by a virtual convention on the StarTrek.com web site.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented shift in the release of movies from theaters to streaming services. Only a handful of films saw theatrical releases, while many were released to Amazon, Netflix, and the newly-launched Disney+. By the end of the year, Warner Bros. announced that, in addition to the simultaneous release of Wonder Woman in both theaters and on their HBO Max service on Christmas Day, all of their films for 2021 would also see the same simultaneous theatrical and streaming releases.

A Year of Personal Change

National Novel Writing Month logo
Credit: NaNoWriMo.org

Following a successful NaNoWriMo in 2019, I hoped to redouble my efforts to, at long last, launch a career as a writer. I purchased a domain name, GeekUnifiedTheory.com, which I hoped to launch into an entertainment blog, and began working on updates. At first weekly, I tried daily updates in June, but the pace, coupled with my own hectic work schedule, quickly burned me out. The blog was left abandoned for several months, as I re-evaluated my goals.

Ultimately, I decided to consolidate all of my existing sites into a new domain, once I discovered that JeffreyHarlan.com was available. I would continue my “This Week in Geek” column as a weekly feature, as well as monthly posts on my writing progress, and occasional updates for holidays, plus any other posts that struck my fancy as the opportunities arose.

One of the missteps with the Geek Unified Theory launch was a lack of pre-planning. I quickly found myself writing posts less than a day before they were due to post. This time around, I’m writing several months’ worth of “This Week in Geek” columns in advance, which I can update prior to publishing as needed. I’m also writing other posts well in advance, and have used a weekly planner to project posts through the end of 2021.

I began my most ambitious novel project yet with 2020’s NaNoWriMo: a trilogy of science fiction novels chronicling an interstellar war. While I didn’t quite make the fifty thousand word goal of NaNoWriMo, I came very close and completed the first half of the novel.

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