A team of astronomers from Texas State University-San Marcos has determined that a rare lunar event caused the shipping lanes of the Atlantic Ocean become extra full of icebergs on the night the Titanic sank.
Here's a breakdown of the "once-in-many-lifetimes event" that set the scene for disaster:
On January 4th, 1912, the moon's closest approach to Earth in a single orbit (vocabulary word of the day: the moon's perigee) happened. Nothing unusual there, except that the moon came even closer than usual. It came, in fact, the closest it has come in 1,400 years. The perigee also occurred with in six minutes of a full moon, which is important.
The moon's lack of respect for Earth's personal space, combined with the fact that the Earth's closest approach to the sun (second vocabulary word of the day: the Earth's perihelion) had occurred just one day prior, maximized its tide-raising effects on Earth's oceans.
Higher tides meant that icebergs from Greenland, which normally would have become grounded in shallow waters off the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland, were able to dislodge themselves and float la-dee-da along southbound ocean currents, placing them right in the pathway of the Titanic in April of that same year.
To put this scientific anomaly in perspective: it can normally take a single iceberg years to accomplish what the one that immortalized Jack & Rose's love forever powered through in a few short months.
See ye now what chaos the envious moon hath wrought?
But, before we turn all on our rage upon the accursed moon, the study's co-author, physicist Donald Olson, would like to remind us that there was some human error involved in the ship's sinking too:
"Of course, the ultimate cause of the accident was that the ship struck an iceberg. The Titanic failed to slow down, even after having received several wireless messages warning of ice ahead. 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."
Another way of thinking about it: if the moon is to blame for the Titanic's sinking, it's also to thank for the new Julian Fellowes Titanic miniseries lodging itself, like so many icebergs, in the icy waters of our hearts this spring.
The findings were published in the April 2012 edition of Sky & Telescope magazine.
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