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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 33: The stars in the year the war ended 2

     The elderly gentleman (a former "human torpedo") from Nishijima Horticultural Park didn't come to see me to tell me about the incident at the Shinyotai base. Instead, the real reason for his surprise visit lied somewhere else. When he was staying with other soldiers for training at the Shinyotai Sumiyoshi base, he saw several bright stars in the eastern sky before the sunrise, which formed the "Stars and Stripes". Seeing the shining American national flag in a twilight sky at the time Japan was losing ground in the war, he thought this would mean Japan would lose the war. Nearly half a century later, he came to see me to figure out with me what those stars were. I suspect that it happened when some planets and a few bright stars happened to align to form a flag-like pattern, but there was no way to confirm it, then.
     I have an experience related to it. Around the same time as the "Stars and Stripes" was seen in the sky, I saw a strange star in broad daylight. This mystery is not resolved even today after half a century has passed. It happened in May or June of the year when the war ended. I was a junior high school student and working under the war-time student mobilization order. It was a place called Inabu, about 15 kilometers west of the shore of Sumiyoshi where the Shinyotai base was situated.
     The goal of our work was to dig a tunnel into the side of a towering mountain on the shore of Tosa Bay to prepare to fight in the face of the Allied Forces landing. The hardship and agony of labor we experienced was beyond description. We lugged heavy timber to the top of a 500-meter tall mountain. We endured the toil once in the morning and once in the afternoon with the spirit and strength of youth. We held a kind of pride in being engaged in the hardest labor in the whole world. This was sustained by our faith in our own country and passion for the war cause. When we reached the mountain top lugging up the heavy timber, we would collapse and could not move with all our strength completely drained.
     One morning like this, we were lying on our back and looking at the clear sky. Suddenly, someone shouted, "What is that!". We followed his finger pointing near the zenith and found a shining object there. We all saw it and an animated exchange of conjectures followed. "It must be a bomb dropped by an enemy plane!". "No, it is a parachute." "It must be a eballoon bomb' launched by Japanese." (My family was in a certain way involved in "balloon bombs" and drawn into a horrible incident. I will talk about it later.) Several days earlier, a series of dangerous events occurred. Kochi city was bombed from air. A B29 on its flight to bomb the mainland of Japan crashed to Washioyama mountain in the city after being attacked by a Shidenkai fighter plane of Matsuyama Aviation Corps and its crew parachuted down. Because of these incidents we became all the more interested in what was going on in the sky and grew uneasy.
     That suspicious shining object might have been Venus. Together with the mystery of the "Stars and Stripes" in the sky that the former Shinyotai soldier told me about, I wanted to know the true nature of that shining object and asked Mr. Shigeo Shimomoto, an amateur astronomer and computer expert to investigate. To my surprise I got a reply email from him the same day. It illustrated the planets' heliocentric positions seen from the earth between May and July of 1945 with a 3-D drawing of the view from the ground. As I had suspected, the culprit was Venus! Venus at the time of the greatest elongation west was at an easiest position to see from the earth. It also became clear that Venus, Mars, and Mercury formed a right triangle looking like the outline of a flag. But if it had formed the Stars and Stripes as the elderly gentleman said, there should have been many stars in a corner of the flag. What on earth did he see in the night sky leading to the end of the war? This puzzling event has been stuck in my mind unresolved for a long time.
     The summer of year 2000 came (fifty-five years later). One fine Saturday, Geisel Observatory's public viewing night was held. With the passing of time, the stars grew brighter and clearer. Occasionally, Aquarids meteors were seen. Suddenly, someone shouted "What are these bright stars?" Low above the eastern forest Jupiter and Saturn were just about to appear. "They are the planets. It is nice to see them back after a long time", I replied and added, "Look at them with binoculars. You can see Jupiter's four satellites." Then, a lady with her children said, "I can see only one satellite." I brought 10cm binoculars from the dome to check and as she said there was only one satellite. The other three overlapped with Jupiter and were not visible. "This is rather unusual. This sort of thing can happen, can't it." I chuckled. Then I heard a man's voice shouting, "the Subaru (Pleiades)! Subaru is rising!" I found the pretty Pleiades stars were shining as if they were trying to hide behind the trees in the forest.
     The planets and the Pleiadesc.it was such a pretty sight. Suddenly, an idea crossed my mind. "Isn't this what that Shinyotai's surviving soldier saw near the end of the war as the Stars and Stripe? Isn't it the case that the three planets and one extra star formed the flag's outline and with the Pleiades inside it the Stars and Stripes emerged in the night sky? The starry Stars and Stripes appearing in the clear refreshing dawn sky. I thought that, looking at this beautiful and stately sight, he sensed Japan was to lose the war.
     "Our enemy was found on the sea in the south. The 128th Shinyotai must immediately launch an attack." The mystery of this telegram, however, is not resolved yet even today. With the passing of time, the mystery deepens.

Copyright (C) 2019 Tsutomu Seki.