March 7th, 2012
09:21 AM ET

Researchers: Rare astronomical alignment may have doomed Titanic

Did the moon and sun conspire to sink the Titanic?

In a way, yes, researchers at Texas State University say.

Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, members of the physics faculty at the university in San Marcos, teamed up with Roger Sinnott, senior contributing editor at Sky & Telescope magazine, to determine how the iceberg the liner struck late on April 14, 1912, came to be in the North Atlantic shipping lanes. More than 1,500 people died when the liner sank less than three hours after hitting the berg.

The researchers theorize that the berg that sank the ship originated in Greenland and was stuck on the coast on Labrador or Newfoundland in early January 1912. Icebergs that become stuck there usually experienced significant melting before regaining enough buoyancy to float away from the coast.

But on January 4, the moon was near full and at its closest distance to the Earth in 1,400 years. A day earlier, Earth was at perihelion, its closest distance to the sun all year. The alignment of Earth, sun and moon created an exceptionally strong "spring tide" which could have refloated icebergs grounded on the northwestern Atlantic coast, the researchers said.

“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,” Olsen said in a university press release.

The website Titanic Facts reports that in April 1912 there were about 300 icebergs in the North Atlantic shipping lanes, the most seen in the route between Europe and North America in 50 years.

“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. That could explain the abundant icebergs in the spring of 1912," Olson said in the release.

The abundance of icebergs that year would also be something the Titanic's experienced captain, Edward Smith, would not have predicted. He'd been sailing the North Atlantic for 26 years, according to Titanic Facts, and had not reduced the Titanic's speed despite receiving warnings of bergs ahead of his ship.

"The Titanic failed to slow down, even after having received several wireless messages warning of ice ahead,” Olson said. “They went full speed into a region with icebergs. That’s really what sank the ship, but the lunar connection may explain how an unusually large number of icebergs got into the path of the Titanic."

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Filed under: Earth • History • Science
soundoff (153 Responses)
  1. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    So, more or less what they're say now, is that the Ti tanic was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. If they, on that particular day, had not sailed from port, this would never had happen. It's amazing what you can come up with 100 years after the fact. Looks like someone wants to write a new "what if" book.

    March 7, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • goodgrief

      The headline says it all. Nothing newsworthy to write about today? What a heap of crap..

      March 7, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    Still, it's an at-fault accident even if the bus you ran into was moving slowly. None of the criminal activity began until after the accident had occured, so the loss of life itself cannot totally be atributed to aligned stars.

    March 7, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Don't argue with the laws of nature. Icebergs have always had the right-of-way.

    March 7, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  4. LogicalThinker

    How many lives have been saved as a result of the loss of life in this one accident? Requiring liners to carry more boats, and all the other related improvements to ship handling that resulted may have saved more lives than were lost in that one tragedy.

    March 7, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Sofa King

    Dang moon people.

    March 7, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  6. RDFinOP

    Woulda Coulda Shoulda

    It seems like that wreck was a confluence of events and errors.

    - If the manufacturer hadn't used iron with too much sulfer, it wouldn't have been too brittle
    - If the lookouts had had binoculars, they might have seen the iceberg in time
    - If they had known the turning radius of the ship, they might not have gone so fast.
    - If they hadn't been so all fired up about making a fast crossing, they might not have lit all the boilers.
    - If they had heeded ice warnings, they might have stopped for the night like other ships in the area.
    - If there had been a wind, the wave action against the berg would have made it more visible.
    - If they had not turned, they would have hit the berg straight on and the ship would have survived.
    - If they had not closed the watertight doors, the ship would have stayed afloat long enough for rescue.

    March 7, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Jamison

      i agree with everything except the last one, experts analyzed this and did a test and in fact if the watertight doors would have been left open the ship would have capsized rather than sink by the nose. They did it to a scale model and watertight door closed sinks by the nose, watertight left open capsizes.

      March 7, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • chris

      -If the lookouts had not been momentariily distracted by Jack and Rose's burgeoning romance they would have noticed the ice sooner...

      March 7, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Mellanie

      I concur. None of this.. astronomical crap.

      March 7, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe T.

      Jack and Rose... the two greatest villains in the history of ocean travel.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Outsideallthetime

    Guess the next thing is some people will start demanding that we need to bomb the moon.

    March 7, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Paulwisc

      If Newt's gonna be up there, probably not a bad idea.

      March 7, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Outsideallthetime

      Good one Paul! LMAF!

      March 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. WHAT?

    I think these GOV. paid reserchers have to put out something to justify thier payday.

    March 7, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Odin

      did you read the article?

      this is from researches at Texas State University and Sky and Telescope magizine

      I typed this very slowly because I'm sure you can not read very fast

      March 7, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. camperman1

    If you are warned about something dangerous, your best advice is to heed that warning and take evasive action. Moon tides or not, the captain slipped up ..... badly!!!

    March 7, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. ma & pa

    Icebergs are just one of Natures Children that were here before us, and will out-last us unless all learn to factor their forces and live accordingly, gently.

    March 7, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Sofa King

      You just loved Avatar, didn't you?

      March 7, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. cass

    sounds cool and helped me with school.

    March 7, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • cass

      awsome cass from cass

      March 7, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Sofa King

      Didn't your mama choke to death on a ham sandwich in a hotel room?

      March 7, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. CNNuthin

    If only they'd listened to Al Gore. He was around back then (Time Travel. He invented it. Look it up) and warned of the dangers of mixing rare astrological events, global warming, man-bear-pig (boy-cub-pig back then) and time travel. He doesn't talk about it much now, because unlike the internet, his time travel invention is something he is not proud of.

    March 7, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • JohnTX

      The bergs once flowed through the TN mountain streams near his home, but global warming melted them all. Now do you believe it is real?

      March 7, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. realtalker1

    This is a pretty well studied part of history. I'm pretty sure the iceburg had more to do with it than objects that are millions of miles away. Seems sort of like common sense to me. But what do I know.

    March 7, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. asdfgh

    chris : over the top .

    March 7, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. Twit Happens

    I thought Sun Moon Yung was into marrying thousands of Koreans at once?!?! How'd he get wrapped up in this now?

    March 7, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
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