Earth Day and the Eclipse

Earth Rising, as photographed from Apollo 8, December 24, 1968 (NASA photo)

The famous “Earthrise” photo was taken by Apollo astronauts on Christmas Eve 1968. In it, a glowing blue earth floats, illuminated against a backdrop of inky blackness. This was the first color picture of our planet from lunar orbit. For the first time, residents of earth were seeing the planet from afar, appreciating its beauty and our small place in the universe. As astronaut Bill Anders later said, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

The Earthrise image sparked a collective awareness, highlighting the singular nature of our life-sustaining planet. It also prompted an acknowledgment of our fragility. This change in perspective has a name – “overview effect,” a term coined by author and researcher Frank White. The overview effect is a cognitive shift described by astronauts who view earth from space, experiencing awe and self-transcendence. Such a shift allowed astronauts, and those viewing the Earthrise photo, to change their perspective. Rather than being inwardly focused, as many of us are as we go about day-to-day life, moments and images like Earthrise allow us to view ourselves as one small part of a greater whole.

This shift in consciousness might sound overly theoretical, but it had real impacts. The Earthrise photo was part of a series of events in the 1960’s gave rise to a growing environmental movement. Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, a groundbreaking book on the damage of pesticides to the environment. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill spewed 3 million gallons of oil into the ocean along California’s coast, and images of oil-covered dolphins, birds, and fish filled media. In the summer of 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire, made possible by the oil and chemicals discharged by Cleveland industries. These events led up to April 22nd, 1970, the first Earth Day, an annual holiday to celebrate the environmental movement and take action to protect our planet. This April will mark the 54th anniversary of Earth Day.

Vermont is due to experience a total eclipse of the sun on April 8th. This event will be far more accessible to the general public than traveling to outer space, and will provide an invaluable opportunity to experience a change in perspective. An eclipse can also be an opportunity to learn more about our planet– the November 7, 1919 eclipse confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity, or the idea that mass causes space itself to curve. According to his theory, he predicted that the light from stars near the sun should bend due to the sun’s gravity. Indeed, when the eclipse blocked the light of the sun, scientists were able to observe this effect. The stars appeared to have shifted position, just as Einstein had predicted.

There is still much to learn from the eclipse today. Researchers are organizing an iNaturalist bioblitz, titled “Life Responds: Total Solar Eclipse 2024,” where people can post their photos and observations of wildlife during the event. This project began as part of the 2017 eclipse, when participants submitted observations of flowers closing, insects slowing down, crickets starting their songs, and more. You can join in as a citizen scientist to track your observations this year, even if you are not in the path of totality. The NASA-backed Eclipse Soundscapes Project will also gather audio recordings and observations from participants to capture the changing sounds of nature during the event.

Eclipses invite humanity to pause and reflect on our position in the universe. This April, the eclipse gives a special significance to Earth Day. As we witness the celestial dance of the sun, moon, and Earth, we’re reminded of our interconnectedness with the cosmos. Just as the Earthrise photo shifted our perspective, the eclipse offers a moment of awe and contemplation. It’s a chance to appreciate the beauty of our world, to recognize the urgency of environmental stewardship, and to renew our commitment to protecting the precious resources that sustain all life.

What You Can Do:

  • Celebrate Earth Day with Sustainable Woodstock on April 5th, 6:30 PM with a virtual film screening of “Inundation District” followed by a Q&A with director David Abel. Register here.


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