Famous Earthrise photo taken on Christmas Eve

A Christmas Eve photograph showed humans their home world from a whole new perspective. This is the photo that’s said to have launched the environmental movement. It’s “Earthrise,” the iconic photo taken by astronaut William Anders on the 4th orbit of the moon aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968.

Half Earth floating in black sky over gray, cratered surface of the moon.

December 24, 1968, from the crew of Apollo 8. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s not really an Earthrise, of course. As seen from any one spot on the moon’s near side, Earth doesn’t rise or set, but simply hangs in one spot in the lunar sky. The astronauts saw Earth rise because they were moving in a spacecraft above the moon’s surface.

On Christmas Eve in 1968, William Anders, aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft, turned his camera toward Earth and took this photo that is now legendary. It was a photo that showed humans a new perspective, with the moon in the foreground and Earth floating in distant space. The iconic image helped spur the environmental movement.

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NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio released the video below on the 45th anniversary of the photo now known as “Earthrise.” The position of Apollo 8 and what the astronauts saw through the windows of the spacecraft are recreated and matched with audio from the flight.

You can hear the voices of the Apollo 8 astronauts: Commander Frank Borman and crew members William A. Anders and James A. Lovell. On the astronauts’ fourth orbit of the moon, Borman performed a roll maneuver of their craft, which put them in position to catch the Earth ascending over the lunar horizon. The video relays the exciting moments as they are surprised with the view for the first time and grapple to get color film to capture the momentous photograph, while joking that the image was not part of their schedule.

Dan Rather described the iconic image in his book, What Unites Us. He explains how it captures the peaceful Earth in the darkness of space and what was really happening on the planet at that moment of history:

This image, so peaceful and yet so breathtaking, was taken at the end of a turbulent year. It was Christmas Eve 1968, but from up there you would never know that a hot war was raging in Vietnam or that a Cold War was dividing Europe. You wouldn’t know of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Bobby Kennedy. From that distance, people are invisible, and so are cities, countries, and national boundaries. All that separates us ethnically, culturally, politically, and spiritually is absent from the image. What we see is one fragile planet making its way across the vastness of space.

With the click of a shutter, our spaceship Earth and everyone aboard was captured by the first humans to venture beyond the bounds of Earth’s gravity and give us a better picture of our home.

In black sky, a glowing greenish streak wider on one end.

Apollo 8 reentering Earth’s atmosphere, as photographed from a USAF KC-135A aircraft at 40,000 feet. Image via @elakdawalla on Twitter.

Bottom line: Earthrise is an iconic photo taken by astronaut William Anders on the fourth orbit of the moon aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968.

Click here to read more details about the NASA visualization.

Deborah Byrd