New Year's Day is celebrated because it's the start of a new calendar year and another opportunity to look forward, and resolve to do things differently - better, we hope - in the year to come.
But what about Jan. 2, 2010? As it happens, this year it's a rare opportunity to look at the date itself - both forward and backward.
The date is a palindrome. When written as a series of digits - month, date and year - it reads the same, from left to right, as it does from right to left: 01-02-2010.
Better still, it's only the second such date in the lives of anyone living today. And that idea holds a particular fascination for anyone as tuned in to numbers as Aziz S. Inan, a professor of engineering at the University of Portland, in Oregon state.
"Numbers play such a critical role in our modern world," he writes. "They form the backbone of our civilization and serve as the blood vessels vital for its survival. ... Some numbers also possess a sort of visual symmetry, and these numbers have a magical power to draw our attention."
Palindromes - in both letters and numbers - have fascinated people for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Schoolchildren have toyed with such sentences as, "A man, a plan, a canal. Panama!" Or, consider the perfectly symmetrical, "Rats live on no evil star," and the symmetrical and sensible, "Step on no pets."
Aziz got interested in palindromic dates last summer and fell in love: "My God, this is interesting!" he said.
As it turns out, Jan. 2, 2010 will be the second palindromic date in this still-young century, Aziz said. The first was Oct. 2, 2001 (or 10-02-2001). And there will be another next year, on Nov. 2, 2011 (or 11-02-2011).
But living through three such dates in a lifetime, Aziz discovered, is exceedingly rare. Before 2001, the last time Western civilization experienced a palindromic date was more than 629 years ago, on Aug. 31, 1380 (or 08-31-1380).
Between the years 1000 and 2000, Aziz found, there were 43 palindromic dates, all of them between the 11th and 14th centuries.
People living today will enjoy a comparative cornucopia of palindromic dates, Aziz said. There will be 12 altogether in this century, occurring on Feb. 2, 2020, on Dec. 2, 2021, and one in each subsequent decade until Sept. 2, 2090 (or 09-02-2090).
Everything changes if you happen to use the European system for numbering dates (as does most of the world), in which the date comes first, followed by the month and the year. "They will have 29" palindromic dates in the 21st century, Aziz said, all of them in February. "It is more rare in our system."
Using the DD/MM/YYYY notation, there were 61 palindromic dates between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 2000, all of them during the 11th and 12th centuries. There have been two already in this century, and a third is coming up on Feb. 1, 2010 (or 01-02-2010).
The last palindromic date in this century under this notation system will be on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2092 (or, 29-02-2092).
"I suggest we enjoy this special day in its full extent," Aziz writes. After all, it is the last palindromic Jan. 2 for the next 10,000 years - until Jan. 2, 12010 (or, 01-02-12010).
Palindrome dates are rarities
Between A.D. 1000 and 2000 there were only 43 palindrome dates, the most recent on Aug. 31, 1380. The 21st century will see 12:
Oct. 2, 2001: 10/02/2001
Jan. 2, 2010: 01/02/2010
Nov. 2, 2011: 11/02/2011
Feb. 2, 2020: 02/02/2020
Dec. 2, 2021: 12/02/2021
Mar. 2, 2030: 03/02/2030
April 2, 2040: 04/02/2040
May 2, 2050: 05/02/2050
June 2, 2060: 06/02/2060
July 2, 2070: 07/02/2070
Aug. 2, 2080: 08/02/2080
Sept. 2, 2090: 09/02/2090
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