There have long been theories and pointing of fingers as to what caused the RMS Titanic to sink on April 14, 1912. As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the tragic sinking in the Atlantic Ocean that cost 1,500 lives, two more theories have emerged as to what could have contributed to the deadly collision. Could it have been an extremely rare lunar event or an optical illusion?
Texas State University astronomers believe that a series of coinciding events involving the moon, Earth and sun lead to a tidal event that would have increased the prevalence of icebergs present in the water in the first place. Space.com has more:
Astronomers David Olson and Russell Doescher say they have discovered that a "supermoon" event coincided with spring tide and Earth's perihelion (the point where it is nearest the sun) on or around the same January night one century ago. Together, these events caused extreme tides that could have dislodged icebergs and flung them into southbound ocean currents. By Apr. 14, one of these bergs could have dipped just south of Newfoundland, right in time to intercept the Titanic's maiden voyage.
Though the ultimate cause of the deadly shipwreck was the failure of the Titanic crew to respond to warning messages about the icy conditions that night, "the lunar connection may explain how an unusually large number of icebergs got into the path of the Titanic," Olson said.
According to the university statement, Olson explained further:
“It was the closest approach of the moon to the Earth in more than 1,400 years, and this configuration maximized the moon’s tide-raising forces on Earth’s oceans. That’s remarkable,” Olson said. “The full moon could be any time of the month. The perigee could be any time of the month. Think of how many minutes there are in a month.”
“As icebergs travel south, they often drift into shallow water and pause along the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland. But an extremely high spring tide could refloat them, and the ebb tide would carry them back out into the Labrador Current where the icebergs would resume drifting southward,” Olson said. “That could explain the abundant icebergs in the spring of 1912. We don’t claim to know exactly where the Titanic iceberg was in January 1912—nobody can know that--but this is a plausible scenario intended to be scientifically reasonable.”
Still, there are others who find this theory to be quite a stretch. Space.com reports John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Washington who has researched the correlation between the tides and seismic activity, states it seems unlikely that a few hours of high tides three months prior to Titanic's crossing would have had such an effect. Vidale also believes there are some faults in these astronomer's logic.
Another theory explained in a new book by a British historian is that given atmospheric conditions on that night, light could have been bent in such a way that those on the lookout couldn't have even seen the iceberg until it was too close. Smithsonian Magazine (via Popular Science) reports that Tim Maltin believes "super refraction" could have caused a mirage that would have prevented anyone from seeing the iceberg and also could have hindered ships from getting to the Titanic faster to help. Here's how it would have worked:
A thermal inversion refracts light abnormally and can create a superior mirage: Objects appear higher (and therefore nearer) than they actually are, before a false horizon. The area between the false horizon and the true one may appear as haze.
But the moonless night provided little contrast, and a calm sea masked the line between the true and false horizons, camouflaging the iceberg. A Titanic lookout sounded the alarm when the berg was about a mile away — too late.
If this were the case, the Californian, a ship close by that could have aided many in the frigid water, would also have misidentified the signals and size of the ship it would have seen along a false horizon.
What do you think of these theories?