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. Eric

    Come on... We all know it was Bush's fault!

    March 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    Oh, hell, EVERYBODY knows that iceberg was out to get the Ti was the plan all along...lmao!

    March 7, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Drew

    Sounds like another 2012 conspiracy.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Drew

    It was al-Qaeda.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. David

    I don't believe in the moon. I think it's the back of the sun.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Return to God

    1) (God-He is the) Cleaver of the daybreak. He has appointed the night for resting, and the sun and the moon for reckoning. Such is the measuring of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing.
    ( Quran, Chapter #6, Verse #96

    It is He (God) Who made the sun a shining thing and the moon as a light and measured out for it stages that you might know the number of years and the reckoning. Allah did not create this but in truth. He explains the Ayat (proofs, evidence, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) in detail for people who have knowledge.
    ( Quran, Chapter #10, Verse #5)

    March 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve Miami

      where can I get a free copy of the Quran?

      March 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |

      Amazing !

      March 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arne

      @Return to God: Spare us your religious drivel. Can we keep this religious nonsense out of it for a change.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Slight

      God didn't help the Jews. Why would he help anyone else?

      March 8, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • saul

      From China.

      March 8, 2012 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Superman

    The captain made a mistake so leave it alone already

    March 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nick

    "There wasn't like a sun, moon and earth thingymajig for my ship too, was there?"
    -Exxon Valdez Captain

    March 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Americal70

      nah it was just the icebergs in your highball Cpt. Hazelwood

      March 7, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. art

    Wow! Science and Astrology seem to be on a collision course, thanks to the Sun and the moon theory. Not at all far fetched, quite conceivable really. Unfortunately for the people aboard the ship, though.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grant

      No It's just ASTRONOMY and the physics of celestial body motion. It is NOT astrology.

      March 8, 2012 at 3:51 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ray

    Who are the two airheads reporting this story? They just sound like giggly girls in the schoolyard, not serious journalists explaining a scientific theory about a major historical event. It's why I hate clicking on the video links on CNN.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tomcat

    Some say that God makes the sun rise, and he makes it rain on good and bad people alike. Others say "God didn't help the Jews." Obviously, he doesn't help todays Israel. (The USA does) Todays Israel has tanks and guns. God's Israel had a boy with a sling. So the only real question is, are American's God's people? Hard to say with America's president swearing on the bible, and Americas people swearing God out of their bedrooms.

    March 8, 2012 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • phil

      I see you stole me name, so I took yours. Don't post your crap under my name. People here have long memories, and they know who you are. Leave me alone.

      March 8, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  12. Whitekong 78

    Gays are weird the way that they look thru God's eyes.

    March 8, 2012 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. moon mullins

    We are all God's children. This has nothing to do with the Ti tanic, tho.

    March 8, 2012 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  14. Protoman

    @Whitekong 78. I uh gree. If everyone looking through their percieved God's eyes looked as though gay, civilization would end. In the grand schene of things, whom other than Satan the Deviil wishes civiliization to end? Obviously then, Satan is gay, or at least bi.

    March 8, 2012 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • ThomasD

      God made man in his image, therefore it follows that God was gay, or at least bi.

      March 8, 2012 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
  15. Philipoman

    @Thomas D!!!.Hay there Washingtontonian fisherman! Good point. If God weren't gay, we wouldn't protect God in our bedrooms.

    March 8, 2012 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
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