Astronomers have revealed that iconic “VJ day kiss” may have happened precisely at 5:51 p.m. with the help of afternoon shadows.
For the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a team of astronomers from Texas State University has applied its unique brand of celestial sleuthing to that famous kiss.
They overlooked in the right hand background of the photo, which showed the Bond Clothes clock. The minute hand of this clock was clear, but the oblique angle of view and the clock’s unusually short hour hand makes a definitive reading of the time difficult.
The clock might show a time near 4:50, 5:50, or 6:50 p.m. A prominent shadow falls across the Loew’s Building just beyond the clock, however, and this shadow could potentially give just as accurate a time reading as the clock.
Every tall building in Manhattan acts as a sundial, its cast shadow moving predictably as the Sun traverses the sky. In this case, the Texas State team studied hundreds of photographs and maps from the 1940s to identify the source of the shadow, considering, in turn, the Paramount Building, the Hotel Lincoln and the Times Building.
The breakthrough came when a photograph of the Astor Hotel revealed a large sign shaped like an inverted L that advertised the Astor Roof garden.
Calculations showed that only the Astor Roof sign could have cast the shadow, but to be certain, Olson and Doescher built a scale model of the Times Square buildings with a mirror to project the Sun’s rays. The location, size and shape of the shadow on the model exactly matched the shadow in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s kiss photographs.
Famed Life magazine photographer Eisenstaedt captured that moment of the most iconic kiss in American history between a U.S. sailor and a woman in white impulsively locking lips in New York City’s Times Square to celebrate Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II Aug. 14, 1945.
The findings are published in Sky and Telescope.