Victor Jorgenson, NARA via Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain
Victor Jorgenson, NARA via Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain

Astronomers Pinpoint the Exact Time of the V-J Day Kiss

Victor Jorgenson, NARA via Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain
Victor Jorgenson, NARA via Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain

There’s plenty of mystery surrounding one of the most famous photos in U.S. history. Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic Life magazine image of a couple kissing in Times Square in celebration of the end of World War II (as well as the similar image that ran in The New York Times, shown above) has been a source of debate for years, as multiple people have come forward claiming to be the subjects of the photo. In 2010, a new question emerged: when, exactly, was the photo taken? 

That year, one of the nurses in the background of the photo—which, it should be noted, probably isn’t as romantic as it might look on first glance—told The New York Times that the photo was taken in the afternoon, hours before President Truman’s 7 p.m. announcement that Japan had accepted the Potsdam Declaration, ending the war. Were the soldiers getting an early start to their celebrations? A trio of astronomical sleuths say yes. Steve Kawaler, a professor in Iowa State University’s physics and astronomy department, along with Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, a physics professor and a senior lecturer at Texas State University, have pinpointed the time of the photo as just before 6 p.m. 

One of the images used to determine the V-J Day photo's time-stamp. Image Credit: Courtesy Steve Kawaler via Iowa State University

The trio examined a group of images from Times Square, looking for the precise alignment of the buildings and the shadows they cast in the late afternoon, in conjunction with maps and sun data. They concluded that the photo was snapped at 5:51 p.m. on August 14, 1945—more than an hour before Truman announced the war was over. Their findings are published in the August issue of Sky & Telescope magazine. 

The exact time-stamp for a photo taken more almost 70 years ago may seem like a trivial piece of data, but it does help eliminate a few of the claims of would-be subjects of the photo. "Some of the accounts are inconsistent with the astronomical evidence, and we can rule people out based on the position of the sun,” Olson explains in a press release. George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer, who are said to be the couple according to the book The Kissing Sailor, kissed around 2 p.m., several hours before. They may have had a chance encounter that day, but it wasn’t the one memorialized in national news. 

[h/t: Futurity]

How Often Is 'Once in a Blue Moon'? Let Neil deGrasse Tyson Explain

From “lit” to “I can’t even,” lots of colloquialisms make no sense. But not all confusing phrases stem from Millennial mouths. Take, for example, “once in a blue moon”—an expression you’ve likely heard uttered by teachers, parents, newscasters, and even scientists. This term is often used to describe a rare phenomenon—but why?

Even StarTalk Radio host Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t know for sure. “I have no idea why a blue moon is called a blue moon,” he tells Mashable. “There is nothing blue about it at all.”

A blue moon is the second full moon to appear in a single calendar month. Astronomy dictates that two full moons can technically occur in one month, so long as the first moon rises early in the month and the second appears around the 30th or 31st. This type of phenomenon occurs every couple years or so. So taken literally, “Once in a blue moon” must mean "every few years"—even if the term itself is often used to describe something that’s even more rare.

[h/t Mashable]

Neutron Star Collision Sheds Light on the Strange Matter That Weighs a Billion Tons Per Teaspoon
Two neutron stars collide.
Two neutron stars collide.

Neutron stars are among the many mysteries of the universe scientists are working to unravel. The celestial bodies are incredibly dense, and their dramatic deaths are one of the main sources of the universe’s gold. But beyond that, not much is known about neutron stars, not even their size or what they’re made of. A new stellar collision reported earlier this year may shed light on the physics of these unusual objects.

As Science News reports, the collision of two neutron stars—the remaining cores of massive stars that have collapsed—were observed via light from gravitational waves. When the two small stars crossed paths, they merged to create one large object. The new star collapsed shortly after it formed, but exactly how long it took to perish reveals keys details of its size and makeup.

One thing scientists know about neutron stars is that they’re really, really dense. When stars become too big to support their own mass, they collapse, compressing their electrons and protons together into neutrons. The resulting neutron star fits all that matter into a tight space—scientists estimate that one teaspoon of the stuff inside a neutron star would weigh a billion tons.

This type of matter is impossible to recreate and study on Earth, but scientists have come up with a few theories as to its specific properties. One is that neutron stars are soft and yielding like stellar Play-Doh. Another school of thought posits that the stars are rigid and equipped to stand up to extreme pressure.

According to simulations, a soft neutron star would take less time to collapse than a hard star because they’re smaller. During the recently recorded event, astronomers observed a brief flash of light between the neutron stars’ collision and collapse. This indicates that a new spinning star, held together by the speed of its rotation, existed for a few milliseconds rather than collapsing immediately and vanishing into a black hole. This supports the hard neutron star theory.

Armed with a clearer idea of the star’s composition, scientists can now put constraints on their size range. One group of researchers pegged the smallest possible size for a neutron star with 60 percent more mass than our sun at 13.3 miles across. At the other end of the spectrum, scientists are determining that the biggest neutron stars become smaller rather than larger. In the collision, a larger star would have survived hours or potentially days, supported by its own heft, before collapsing. Its short existence suggests it wasn’t so huge.

Astronomers now know more about neutron stars than ever before, but their mysterious nature is still far from being fully understood. The matter at their core, whether free-floating quarks or subatomic particles made from heavier quarks, could change all of the equations that have been written up to this point. Astronomers will continue to search the skies for clues that demystify the strange objects.

[h/t Science News]


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