WASHINGTON – We take on a nautical flavor today, April 15, 2012, as 100 years ago the world woke up to the news of RMS Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking with the loss of 1,500 lives. Of course news could not travel as fast as it does today, but the Titanic’s sinking held the world’s attention for weeks and it still does in large measure.
Friday night I watched the National Geographic special that featured James Cameron — who made the 1997 blockbuster movie “Titanic” and recently released the movie in 3-D — and a panel of experts who put together a forensic examination of the great ship’s sinking.
It was fascinating to watch and I learned much. Cameron and his group believe they have now pieced together the mystery of the debris field that lies over two miles below the surface of the sea and how Titanic lived her final seconds and then took her death dive to the bottom.
There are astronomical aspects to the sinking of Titanic that have come forward on the 100th anniversary and they involve the Moon.
First and foremost, there was no Moon to illuminate the calm sea and help the lookouts and watch officers see icebergs. These crew members also had no binoculars or optical aid to help them scan the horizon as they had been left behind accidentally on the ship’s maiden voyage.
I can tell you from personal experience that to not have binoculars while on watch aboard a ship is leaving you blind, especially on a moonless night.
The other Moon-Titanic aspect involves the Moon’s tidal influence on the icebergs. A serious study of the timeframe involved revealed that the Earth-Moon-Sun alignment could have produced very high tides that could have refloated grounded icebergs and put them in the shipping lanes and ultimate path of the Titanic.
Read more about the Moon-Titanic connection from Sky & Telescope Magazine here and here.
If you happen to be outside at 11:40 p.m. Sunday or after 2:30 a.m. on April 16, take a look at the sky. The stars will be essentially the same, except for some latitude variations and the planets present, as they were 100 years ago as the survivors and those who were killed saw them.
Titanic is a lesson of history that intertwines technology, human error and as you will see after reading the links, the workings of the Universe. There will be similar lessons I am sure in the future of humanity but we would be wise to remember Titanic along with Three-Mile Island, Challenger, Columbia, Fukushima and Costa Concordia.