SUNKEN LINER Titanic iceberg riddle answer FOUND ON MOON
'Odds against rare astronomical event were astronomical'
Scientists probing the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the ocean liner Titanic in 1912 say that a very rare conjunction of the Earth, Sun and Moon may have led to unusually high numbers of icebergs in the doomed vessel's path.
“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,” says Donald Olson, physics prof at Texas State uni.
The Moon's close approach coincided with its being in line with the Sun, a regular event which causes the high "spring tides" which all mariners are familiar with. But in this case the Moon was unusually near, more able to affect the oceans, and on top of that the Earth had passed its closest in a very long while to the Sun just the day before.
According to a Texas State statement highlighting the scientists' calculations:
In astronomical terms, the odds of all these variables lining up in just the way they did were, well, astronomical.
The theory goes that the unusually high tides this produced caused many icebergs to float off beaches where they had run aground in the natural course of events, meaning that the Titanic's route was unusually heavily littered with the vast, frozen bulks - with fatal consequences. Of course, it's also the case that the doomed liner was trying to make a fast trip to New York - the shipping lines of the day vied for the "Blue Riband" awarded to the record-holding vessel - and this will have led her captain to steam fast and take the shorter and so more northerly route.
"The Titanic failed to slow down, even after having received several wireless messages warning of ice ahead,” admits Olson. “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.”
Olson and his colleagues' research is featured in April's Sky & Telescope magazine. ®
'In astronomical terms, the odds of all these variables lining up in just the way they did were, well, astronomical.'
Actually it's a million to one chance - ask Mr Pratchett.
A few points to note: the Titanic was not trying for the Blue Riband. In 1909, the Mauretania, run by rival steamship Cunard, managed a record run at an average speed of 26 knots. The Titanic was never designed to be that fast, and on her only voyage "only" managed 22.5 knots. I forget the average, but it winds up being about 21.5 knots. With this difference in speed, there was no way the Titanic could beat the Mauretania. Instead, as the old fable goes, the designers opted for comfort and space (and size) rather than speed. Another fable goes that the Titanic was trying to beat the record for the fastest maiden voyage crossing. This was set the previous year by the Titanic's sister, the Olympic, and the Titanic was set to beat this. There is some evidence that the chairman of the Line, who was on board, was pressurising the captain to get to New York early, ahead of the Olympic's time, and there is more compelling evidence that the Titanic was speeding up. If the Titanic had maintained 22.5 knots, she would have easily beaten her sister. Even fact, she may even have surpassed it if an iceberg had not got in the way, for a full speed test was scheduled for the Monday that never came to the Titanic.
Regarding the latest theory, it sounds interesting, I've heard everything from an unusually warm winter and El Nino blamed for the large number of icebergs that year. I did a trawl through a couple of old shipping newspapers a few years back and the number is astonishing - if you're that way inclined, have a look at http://www.paullee.com/titanic/ice.html - it needs Java to run the Applet. One interesting little point is that it was claimed that a Titanic lifeboat that had been abandoned at the wreck site managed to drift all the way to Ireland, then south to Spain, and then back round to the Bahamas where it was eventually found (its part of a great circulatory system called "The North Atlantic Gyre") - some years later a lifejacket from the Lusitania, sunk off Ireland in 1915 did a similar journey and wound up off the north eastern coast of the US.
one in a million ...
chances turn up nine times out of ten.