It has been almost 100 years since the fated RMS Titanic struck an especially large iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank to a depth of 12,500 feet—taking 1,517 passengers and crew along with it. Since its rediscovery in 1985, the Titanic has been the focus of countless books, shows, and movies, further propelling its fame into the future. As fans of the 1997 Leonardo Dicaprio / Kate Winslet movie get geared up for the rerelease of the ultimate blockbuster, a hypothesis emerges that puts a new spin on the theories of what brought that unsinkable ship to its knees.
Donald Olson, an astronomer and physics faculty member at Texas State University, in San Marcos, believes he may have a good idea of what set off a chain of events that would eventually lead one giant ship and one superior iceberg to the same point at the same time. For Olson, the answer lies with the moon, and more specifically, the astronomical phenomenon that is a super moon.
Following in the footsteps of Fergus J. Wood, the oceanographer who first surmised that the proximity of the moon to Earth around the time of the crash played a role in the disaster, Olson and his collaborator Russell Doescher decided to take a deeper look at the astronomical events occurring around the crash of the Titanic. According to Wood, January 4, 1912 (just three months before the April 14 accident) experienced an exceptionally close full moon—closer than it had been for 1,400 years. That, combined with the effect of a “spring tide,” another phenomenon that causes higher than usual high tides and lower than usual low tides, would dish out a heavy heaping of astronomical sway.
So what does this all have to do with the Titanic? A lot, according to the researchers. All this tug and pull on the earth’s currents have been known to dislodge ice bergs from their origins and carry them across ocean currents. But to reach the Titanic’s path, that would take some time. So much time that others are not so easily persuaded that the January 4 moon had anything to do with anything. Astronomer Geza Gyuk is skeptical about this theory, believing that even if the moon had anything do with the ice berg’s movement, the rise in tide would not be enough to yank the block of ice from its Greenlandic fjord.
But as Olson explains, it would only take a small rise in tide to dislodge a giant ice berg that had stranded itself in shallow water closer to the point of impact. “Suppose you pull a rowboat to a beach,” Olson clarifies. “It doesn’t have to be much of a higher tide to refloat the rowboat.” Supposed is the story of the Titanic’s iceberg. Even a slight rise in tide levels could be enough to set the ice berg in motion and carry it into a much stronger current. And there is plenty of evidence that suggests that the early months of 1912 saw a heavy helping of ice bergs in the North Atlantic shipping lane. It is approximated that 300 ice bergs shared the same path as boats like the Titanic in that same month—an amount unmatched since 50 years before.
“Normally, ice bergs remain in place and cannot resume moving southward until they’ve melted enough to refloat or a high enough tide frees them,” Olson and his research team said in a statement to the press. “A single iceberg can become stuck multiple times on its journey southward, a process that can take several years.” Perhaps the journey of the ice berg began long before anyone has previously thought, inching its way down around the coast of Greenland and Baffin Island, moving with the Labrador current and just grazing the top of Newfoundland before setting itself firmly in the path of Titanic, waiting for collision. A trek so long awaited and with such devastating consequences, it would make for a great movie.
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