Part of an April 2012 National Geographic special, remarkable photos are now showing the full expanse of the RMS Titanic-- for the first time since the vessel sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean nearly 100 years ago. The "unsinkable" ship was on its maiden voyage, traveling between Southampton, England and New York City, when it struck an iceberg and brought 1,500 people to a watery grave on April 15, 1912.
The photos represent the first time that researchers have been able photograph more than isolated areas of the vessel. One of National Geographic's lead archaeologists said, "This is a game changer...In the past, trying to understand Titanic was like trying to understand Manhattan at midnight in a rainstorm—with a flashlight. Now we have a site that can be understood and measured, with definite things to tell us. In years to come this historic map may give [a] voice to those people who were silenced, seemingly forever, when the cold water closed over them."
Bill Lange, the head of WHOI’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, said, "Now we know where everything is. After a hundred years, the lights are finally on."
In total, the researchers evaluated a site that totaled three by five square miles in a multimillion dollar expedition that ended September 2010. During the expedition, three state-of-the-art robots took thousands of images per second while swimming the length of the boat. Utilizing side-scan and multibeam sonar, the images were then compiled to form massive, high definition pictures of the entire vessel.
The photos also help provide an account of how exactly the ship sank. According to the Daily Mail:
The side views of the two main parts of the ship are particularly telling because the images speak volumes about the speed at which they crashed into the ocean floor.
The bow, or the front half of the ship, was the first to fall into the ocean depths. After being pierced repeatedly by the edge of the iceberg- some holes of which are still visible today in the top photo- the bow then plummeted to the ocean floor.
Because the front of the ship was designed to have a shape that allowed for smooth sea travel, the bow streamed nose first into the bed of the ocean.
That was not the case for the stern, or back end, of the ship.
Since the Titanic had snapped in half, the lower portion of the stern was the breaking point and water filled the ship from there.
What that [means is] that when the stern proceeded to sink to the ocean floor, that descent was much more dramatic. Entire floors collapsed, water smashed the internal structure of the ship as it descended at a rapid pace.
The fast speed and incomparable power of the water essentially had a 'corkscrew' effect on the ship as it mangled the steel so that it no longer even looks like the ship it once was.
In the words of Bill Lange, "We like to picture shipwrecks as Greek temples on a hill -- you know, very picturesque. But they’re not. They’re ruined industrial sites: piles of plates and rivets and stiffeners. If you’re going to interpret this stuff, you gotta love Picasso.”