A physicist blew the controversy behind this iconic American photo wide open again

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Couple Re-Enacts Historic Times Square Kiss to Celebrate VJ Day

For 67 years, the identity of the two kissers in one of America's most celebrated photos — the "V-J Day in Times Square" or simply "The Kiss" — remained a complete mystery.

The photo was taken by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square in New York City on August 14, 1945 — a day that Americans will forever remember as the "Victory over Japan Day" when Japan surrendered, putting an end to World War II.

In 2012 the book "The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo that Ended World War II" identified that sailor as George Mendonsa and the nurse as Greta Friedman.

Mendonsa and Friedman's story of how the iconic kiss happened was announced to the world, and the decades-long controversy was finally put to rest.

At least, until now.

See the iconic photo and people recreating the famous kiss:

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V-J Day Kiss in Times Square 1945 & recreations
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A physicist blew the controversy behind this iconic American photo wide open again
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 14: Army National Guard Capt. Ben Summers and girlfriend Elizabeth Booher kiss as they join dozens of couples in Times Square for a group kiss on the anniversary of the end of World War 2. Summers, an Afghanistan War veteran, also proposed to his lady friend as the couples mimicked the famous shot, captured by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, of a sailor kissing a nurse on Broadway on V-J Day, 62 years ago. (Photo by Michael Appleton/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA – September 7, 2008 : Per and Dorene Piencka, (CQ) of Norwalk, CT, make a kissing pose for their scrapbook next to J. Seward Johnson's sculpture 'Unconditional Surrender' next to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier at the San Diego Embarkadero. Unconditional Surrender, which is 25 feet high and weighs 6,000 pounds, is a three–dimensional interpretation of a photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a Sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, New York City on Aug. 14, 1945, following the announcement of V–J Day. TheEmbarcadero is a popular scenic section of waterfront located next to the downtown area. It has sweeping views of San Diego Bay and many tourist attractions. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 14: Gredorieo Smith and Berity Rees (right), a couple on lunch break, join dozens of other couples in Times Square for a group kiss on the anniversary of the end of World War 2. The couples mimicked the famous shot, captured by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, of a sailor kissing a nurse on Broadway on V-J Day, 62 years ago. (Photo by Michael Appleton/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - AUGUST 14: Carl Muscarello and Edith Shain, who claim to be the nurse and sailor in the famous photograph taken on V-J Day, kiss next to a sculpture based on the photograph in Times Square to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II August 14, 2005 in New York City. Alfred Eisenstaedt took the famous photograph in Times Square but did not note the names of the people in the picture. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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The controversy has been blown wide-open once again because Mendonsa and Friedman's story couldn't have happened at the time they said it did, according to Texas State physicist Donald Olsen and his two colleagues, Russell Doescher, an astrophysicist at Texas State, and Steven D. Kawaler, an astrophysicist at Iowa State University.

The three scientists pointed out a flaw in the story when they sought to answer another question about this iconic photo that few people think to ask: What time of day Eisenstaedt took the photo.

Olsen scrutinized the length and angle of the various shadows of people and buildings in the photo to help him get an idea of the time of day. He also built scale models of some of the buildings in Time Square back in 1945 based from measurements he found in old maps and blueprints of the square, as well as aerial photos to determine the time, once and for all.

But what ultimately clinched it was the length of the shadow on a clock in the photo. The shadow, Olsen realized, was generated by a sign above the clock. By calculating the distance between the clock and sign, he determined the location of the sun in the sky, which then gave him the time of day.

After four years working on this project, Olsen and the team announced beyond any doubt that the famous kiss happened at 5:51 p.m. According to Wired, you can read a report of their findings in the upcoming August issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine.

The problem is that Mendonsa and Friedman's story place their kiss at around 2:00 p.m. Mendonsa said that the kiss happened shortly after he left a movie at 1:05 p.m. and Friedman said that she was on a late lunch break.

While the two purported kissers might just be misremembering the time of day — after all it happened nearly 70 years ago — Olsen's study brings their story and subsequent claims of being the famous sailor and nurse into question.

Although he's solved the time of day, Olsen told Wired that he still hasn't a clue as to the identity of the people in the photo. That mystery is one that will have to remain unsolved, for now.

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