Earth Day celebrates its 52nd birthday today. Since 1970, April 22 has become a day to reflect on the environment, and for people to share their concerns for the planet. Founded by a US senator, Earth Day has grown into a global phenomenon – and this year, because of the COVID-19 crisis, the event will be special because it will be a digital only affair – with the hashtag #Earthrise.
What you may not know, is that the term Earthrise gets its name from an iconic image of our planet shot by American astronaut William Anders in 1968. The image is one of the best known in the whole history of photography - and legendary landscape photographer Galen Rowell described it as "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken".
The image was shot from Apollo 8, the first manned expedition to orbit the moon, on Christmas Eve. It partly was a matter of luck that Anders got the shot – as he was the one of the three astronauts onboard that was holding the camera loaded with color film, and fitted with a telephoto lens, as the Earth began to rise through the porthole.
It was the wonder of seeing the beauty of our blue planet from out of space for the first time that made it such an iconic image. "Our Earth was quite colorful, pretty, and delicate compared to the very rough, rugged, beat-up, even boring lunar surface", reminisces Anders. "I think it struck everybody that here we’d come 240,000 miles to see the moon and it was the Earth that was really worth looking at."
The image itself was one of a series shot by Anders using a modified Hasselblad 500 EL medium format camera (opens in new tab), fitted with a 250mm lens, and loaded with Kodak Ektachrome film; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/11.
"That one picture exploded in the consciousness of humans," said former US Vice President Al Gore. "It led to dramatic changes. Within 18 months of this picture the environment movement had begun."