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. This_blank

    Wasnt newt gingrich on that boat? Now we know why hes so into moon colonies! He had a vision that cold & fatefull night!

    March 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carawaigh

      Newt simply used his Lil' Mad Scientist ™ Moon-O-Tracter to pull the iceberg into the ship, cackling madly all the while.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • young

      well played my friend.... well played....

      March 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gene

    Personally, I blame Obama.

    March 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Punkass

      Im gonna go ahead and jump on that bandwagon. I see no fault in your logic good sir.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MIke

    Not sure about the moon and the sun, but I'm almost positive that big chunk of ice had something to do with it.

    March 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. palintwit

    Sarah Palin saw the iceberg from her porch.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Punkass

      Hmmm, wrong sea but good try.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brutus

    Let us bow our heads and pray. Pray that the cruise ship the Queen Mary meets the same fate before year's end with a full capacity of people from each and every country. What a splendid sight that would be.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      What in the world are you talking about ?

      March 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Punkass

      I agree with Dan.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Isn't the Queen Mary drydocked? The original I mean?

      March 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NaloBoi259

    "God himself cannot sink this ship."

    March 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americal70

      as an atheist i find that inscription (and result) to have been VERY odd

      March 7, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. I think

    some ice did the trick! no need to add butterfly wings into it.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Lol...cute...and true.

      March 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. blueiis0112

    This research also helps with today's shipping world. I often wonder what really happened to the Edmond Fitzgerald and how nature played a part in its demise.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • ArcticViper

      If I remember the reports...the Edmond Fitz sank because the cargo doors where not secured. In the storm water was able to rush in the bow causing it to sink.

      March 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • rexslate

      ArcticViper – Are you thinking of the "Estonia"?

      March 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. LKG

    You got that part right–it wasn't the captain who told his wife, the captain died when the ship when down. It was the guy steering the ship. He'd been used to another type of steering, and turned the wrong way and then tried to fix it, but was too late.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CAPTOK

    I've known this for years. I'm glad people are waking up to the fact that the Sun and Moon are out to kill us all.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • DoubleW

      I don't trust them frogs, either. You ever notice the hostile way a frog looks at you?

      March 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. condonate

    Sounds more like an astrological alignment to me. I place the blame squarly on Cetus the sea monster.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bluemax77

    Nope..!!

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

    Well since the Captain went down with the ship, he must not have kept the secret for long. I think you are thinkg of another member of the crew, where there was confusion over the meaning of the command given to turn the ship. It had something to do with a command to turn the tiller to starboard (which would turn the ship to port), versus the more modern meaning of a "Hard to Starboard" command, which would mean to turn the ship to starboard. I am not sure this story is totally accepted as fact; although it is an interesting theory.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. guest

    People that believe this nonsense have not even a fundamental appreciation of gravity. This is just stupid.

    March 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. This_blank

    Why in the hell didnt Obama save them!

    March 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
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