By Christopher Connell
2017 was a momentous year. Americans celebrated the inauguration of the 45th president, Donald Trump, and gazed skyward at an awe-inspiring solar eclipse as well as the rising of a “supermoon.” They responded with kindness and determination to help those who lost homes in Hurricane Harvey, the California wildfires and other natural disasters. They cheered the first American woman in 40 years to take home laurels in the New York City Marathon, gasped at the winning bid for a rediscovered Leonardo Da Vinci painting, and helped the Cincinnati Zoo’s premature baby hippo become a social media star.
Every president since the first, George Washington, has taken the same, 35-word oath of office, as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” In a ceremony on the flag-draped West Front of the U.S. Capitol, Donald J. Trump took the oath at noon on January 20.
Total eclipse of the sun
For sky watchers, nothing beats a total solar eclipse. They occur somewhere on the planet once or twice a year, but the path of “totality” is only 50 miles. That’s why millions of Americans got excited about the eclipse that swept across the continent from Oregon to South Carolina on August 21, affording glimpse in the daytime darkness the sun’scorona, a crown of light surrounding the shadowed moon. It only lasted a few minutes, but Americans won’t have to wait long for the next: April 2024.
Supermoon on the horizon
So-called “supermoons” occur far more often than eclipses, but they, too, are a beautiful sight that happens when the full moon rises as it orbits closest to Earth. It can appear to the naked eye up to 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than usual. This view was over Los Angeles on December 3. On average 14 lunar months elapse between supermoons. Some loom larger than others.
An old master breaks records
Fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci survive. The Italian Renaissance sculptor, inventor, architect and scientist painted Mona Lisaand The Last Supper. When his rediscovered Salvator Mundi appeared on the art market, it was inevitable that the old record — a Picasso sold in 2015 for $179 million — would fall. Still, no one expected the bidding at Christie’s Auction House in New York to reach the $450 million that an anonymous buyer will pay in three installments. The oil painting showing Jesus Christ with one hand uplifted and the other holding an orb will go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi art museum.
Beating the odds
Fiona the baby hippo was born six weeks premature at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in January, weighing just 13 kilograms, almost half the size of the smallest ever recorded. Bottle feeding and tender care soon helped Fiona gain weight. She topped 270 kilograms by year’s end and remained a star on social media as well as the zoo’s biggest draw.
Taking home the laurels in New York City
Half a million people run in 1,100 U.S. marathons each year. None attracts more runners than the New York City Marathon, which starts in Staten Island and winds through all five boroughs before the 50,000 runners finish in Central Park after 26 miles and 385 yards, or 42.2 kilometers. There was extra jubilation for hometown fans on November 5, when Shalane Flanagan, 36, became the first American woman to win in 40 years. Flanagan took bronze in the 10-kilometer race at the 2008 Olympics and finished sixth in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Helping the homeless after Hurricane Harvey
Hurricanes struck across the Caribbean and Gulf Coast states in a deadly four-week spate in late summer. After Hurricane Harvey dumped 56 inches of rain on South Texas and flooded downtown Houston, the owner of Gallery Furniture opened the showroom’s doors and provided bedding for hundreds, including Gladys Dasi and her 2-month-old son, Elliott (above). In all the natural disasters of 2017, first responders and volunteers turned out in force to rescue people and help those affected by the storms.
Battling the California wildfires
Californians dwell close to the ocean and are surrounded by scenic forests and rugged mountains. Warmth, sun and beauty encourage outdoor recreation much of the year. But nature can turn on the 39 million residents suddenly, as it did this fall when Santa Ana winds fanned some of the largest wildfires in the state’s history. Thousands of firefighters, like these in Ojai, California, converged from all over the western United States to battle the blazes.