Taking Away the Mystery

Here is a trivia question: What happened at exactly 5:51 p.m. on August 14, 1945?

If you don’t know, don’t worry, no one else knew the answer to this question until very recently.

The answer is: this was the exact time in which a sailor in New York’s Times Square, exhilarated by the news of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II, grabbed a woman dressed in white, apparently a nurse, and gave her a huge kiss. The photograph of this moment was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt has become one of the most enduring photographic images in history.

That the picture was taken on August 14 is not news. But 5:51 p.m.?

Recently physics Professor Donald Olson of Texas State University and his colleagues analyzed the shadows cast in the picture and were able to determine the exact location of the sun when the picture was taken. They have determined that the picture was taken at exactly 5:51 p.m.

An article on the Internet about this discovery is entitled: “How a Physics Professor Solved the Mystery of an Iconic Photo”.

I am fascinated by stories of this kind. I love a good mystery and am fascinated by those, whether scientists, historians, or whomever, who are able to find answers to questions few had even thought about.

And, that is what really interests me in this story. I am absolutely overwhelmed by the ability of this team of physicists to answer this question. But, I have to ask the next question: Was it really a mystery? Did anyone ever really care what time the picture was taken. And, most importantly, can I appreciate the picture more now that I know what time it was taken?

In a way I’m fascinated that I know the time the picture was taken. But, at the same time, something is lost. Now, the issue of time has become a focus. There are responses to the internet article in which some claim that the 5:51 time couldn’t be right. One response used as proof the growth of the sailor’s beard, too heavy to be a “5 o’clock shadow” and therefore clearly the picture had to be taken later.

I have seen this picture so many times. There is mystery about it. While some recent stories have identified who the two people are, the fact is that there is a sense of anonymity about it. Like so many moments frozen in time through photography,not knowing the entire backstory of the photo makes it more universal. The fact that the picture was taken at a particular time is of interest to me but if it becomes the main focus of the story, we will miss the point. This was a picture so full of emotion that even those of us who were born years after the event can feel the joy and the relief. That is what must remain.

I have been watching with such keen interest NASA’s New Horizon probe doing its flyby of the “planet” (or not) Pluto. I can’t wait to see the pictures. I know that there will be important knowledge gained from these pictures. But, I’m not sure I want to know all of the scientific analysis that the astronomers will come away with.

I just want to see the pictures and marvel at the beauty of God’s creation. I want some of the mystery of this drawf planet to remain. I don’t need to know what time it is on Pluto.

Sometimes, our world is enhanced by information. Sometimes, we’re better off living in a world of mystery.

1 Comment

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One response to “Taking Away the Mystery

  1. Laurel Federbush

    I don’t trust anything from NASA.

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