On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean, to the South of Newfoundland. 1517 died. Everyone knows it hit an iceberg, but scientists are now showing new research that points at the ultimate culprits.
The first culprit was the moon. According to Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, a team of astronomers from Texas State University-San Marcos, the iceberg that sunk the Titanic shouldn’t have been there. The cause was the moon — and also the sun.
According to data gathered by Olson and Doescher, earlier that year it was “the closest approach of the moon to the Earth in more than 1400 years”. On January 4, 1912, the moon’s perigee — its closest point to Earth — came six minutes before the full moon and one day after the perihelion — the Earth’s closest point to the sun. The chances of this happening are astronomical. Olson says that “this configuration maximised the moon’s tide-raising forces on Earth’s oceans”.
Those forces caused an unusual high tide. The high tide freed a large group of stranded icebergs from the shallow water of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their research shows that these icebergs usually get trapped in those waters as they travel South from Greenland, where they are produced by glaciers. In fact, the icebergs get stuck multiple times.
The extreme tide, they say, may have freed a massive amount of icebergs which ran into the Titanic route in that fatal month of April, basically turning the area into a minefield. In fact, all the ships that tried to respond to the SOS calls were slowed down by these same icebergs, which also caused all the shipping routes to be moved further south for the whole 1912 season.
According to Olson, they “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.”
But, if there were so many icebergs, why didn’t the Titanic spot them before it was too late? Another research by British historian Tim Maltin points at the other part of the solution to the puzzle: there was a mirage that made impossible for the lookouts to see the icebergs on time.
At the time of the disaster, the Titanic was cruising from hot Gulf Stream waters to the cold Labrador Current. The atmosphere of the two currents are at a different temperature too and, while they interact with each other, they can produce an optical phenomenon called a super refraction, which can make objects ahead appear or disappear depending on the distance to the object.
A British government investigation conducted in 1992 pointed at this possibility, but it was abandoned. Now Maltin claims that new data from “weather records, survivors’ testimony and long-forgotten ships’ logs” show clear proof that this is what happened. In fact, this optical trickery also explains why the freighter Californian couldn’t identify the Titanic or communicate with it at the time of the disaster.