The headline writers have been having fun. The Daily Beast headline reads – Moon to Blame for Titanic Sinking? Reuters asks and answers its own question – “What sank the Titanic? Scientists point to the moon.” The Times of India gets alliterative – “Cosmic curse: Did the moon sink Titanic?” National Geographic introduces the “supermoon” but hedges their bet with a question mark – “Titanic Sunk by “Supermoon” and Celestial Alignment?” The Telegraph reverts to a simple declarative statement, “Titanic disaster blamed on Moon.” And on and on.
Did the moon sink the Titanic? The answer is no. And no one is actually claiming that it did, worldwide headlines notwithstanding.
Astronomer Donald Olson of Texas State University-San Marcos has reported a rare alignment of the sun, the full moon, and Earth, on January 4, 1912, which may have caused unusually high times which may have increased the number of icebergs in the path of the Titanic. He theorizes that a higher tide may have refloated icebergs which may have grounded off Labrador and Newfoundland, sending them in the Titanic’s path. Dr. 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.”
Does this theory make sense? Perhaps, but not necessarily. As reported by National Geographic:
Astronomer Geza Gyuk, for example, doubts the January 4, 1912, spring tide was especially powerful.
Full and new moons coincide with the moon’s closest monthly approach of Earth every few years, with little effect on iceberg creation, said Gyuk, director of the Department of Astronomy at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum.
The more conventional explanation for the large number of icebergs observed in 1912 involves the previous mild winters and strong activity of the calving glaciers. The increased iceberg activity was also widely reported. The Hydrographic Office report “North Atlantic Ice Movement” for April, issued on March 28, 1912, showed ice on the Titanic’s route. The Cunard Line Mauretania, which arrived in New York a few days after the Titanic sank, took a southern route to avoid icebergs.
Thanks for Steve Phelps for passing the story along.