back to article SUNKEN LINER Titanic iceberg riddle answer FOUND ON MOON

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 …


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  1. Def Silver badge

    The April edition?

    Hopefully that's not published on the 1st...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The April edition? Nah ....

      More like the Sunday Sport is reborn , in the guise of The Register.

      Who can forget the immortal headline "B52 found on face of the Moon".

      (or was it "World War 2 bomber found on moon" , senility has made me forget )

      1. Mike Flugennock

        No, it was "WWII Bomber FOUND ON MOON"

        It was "WWII BOMBER FOUND ON MOON". I remember that front page of the Weekly Weird... uh, World News like it was yesterday, and I know for sure because they had the photos to prove it:

        ...although my Google Image search reveals that the UK's Sunday Sport also picked it up.

        Oh, and btw, why the hell was it called "Sunday Sport" when all I could see of it in my image search was babes with massive racks and stories about B17s on the Moon?

  2. Elmer Phud

    '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.

    1. Graham Wilson

      @Elmer Phud -- Chances aside, ultimately responsibility rests with Capt. Smith.

      Chances aside, after receiving radio warnings that icebergs were in the area, ultimately Captain Edward Smith was responsible for the sinking and loss of life by not slowing the ship down.

      Also, partly responsible was the White Star Line for its silly competitive nature of trying to make its ships reach New York in record time--safety became second.

      Third in line were the ship's designers (and probably regulators, those certifying etc.) for the inadequate design of the ship's watertight compartments (and also the lack of lifeboats). They're third on the list as Titanic was breaking new ground and to some extent these parameters were not fully understood.




      Absolutely lastly responsible was any variation in natural occurrences. Chance should never have been given its opportunity.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        The lack of lifeboats was no issue at the time - nobody had enough lifeboats because nobody bothered to include a place for every passenger on board.

        Maybe, just maybe, the Titanic was what was needed to ensure that this approach changed - because it was the freezing death of those poor people that made the rest of the world react and demand more lifeboats.

        Otherwise, today we'd still have cruise ships taking 4000 people on board with only 10 20-seat lifeboats for decoration (one reserved for the bridge crew, obviously). Hey, lifeboats take up space and they're not nice to look at right ? You really think shipping cartels would bother putting enough of them if it weren't mandatory in every country in the world ?

        1. John 62


          apparently no-one had enough lifeboats because, especially in the transatlantic crossing, everyone assumed there was so much traffic that lifeboats would only be used to ferry passengers from a stricken ship onto nearby ships.

  3. John G Imrie

    one in a million ...

    chances turn up nine times out of ten.

    1. Scott Broukell

      Re: one in a million ...


      If I've told you once, I've told you a million times, stop exaggerating!

  4. Andus McCoatover

    "God Himself couldn't sink this ship"

    Seems he did...

    Myth - BUSTED!

  5. oldredlion

    More like Astrology

    "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."

    When is this alignment going to happen again?

    Step 1: Give vague prediction - "a watery based event will happen"

    Step 2: wait for calamitous event that is noticed by the media

    Step 3: point out my prediction

    Step 4: Prophet?

    Step 5: Profit!

  6. Paul Lee 1

    Common misconceptions

    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 - 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.

    1. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

      Re: Common misconceptions

      In the mid nineties a container fell of a ship in the mid pacific. It happened to be loaded with 20 odd thousand rubber ducks. Numbers of these floated north and through the bearing sea to go under the arctic icepack for a number of years before a few were spat out into the Atlantic. Some have been found in NW european waters. Nothing to do with icebergs but fun nonetheless. Never saw one though.

      1. Paul Lee 1

        Re: Common misconceptions

        I remember that, it provided date on circulatory patterns of ocean currents I think? On a sadder note, theres the huge island of junk that has accumulated in the pacific, brought together by ocean currents...I despair what we have done to our planet sometimes!

      2. Peter H. Coffin

        Re: Common misconceptions

        There's an interesting book written about that and flotsam in general called "Moby-Duck".

      3. AndrueC Silver badge

        Re: Common misconceptions

        That's completely quackers.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Paul Lee 1

        Re: Common misconceptions

        How is that so? They spent a fortune on the ship "no expenses spared" and so on, and the fittings on board were truly luxurious. If you're talking about the lifeboats, then they were only obeying the letter of the law. It was up to the shipping companies to provide a full complement of boats and no-one, not even the companies abroad wanted to do this!

        1. Trevor Marron

          Re: Common misconceptions

          Because they used cheap steel and rivets.

          The sea trials took 6 hours and involved none of the crew who sailed her, as they refused to pay for any that were longer.

          The crew were untrained on the Titanic for the same reason, all training was to take place when the ship was under way.

          There was only one row of lifeboats because any more would have spoiled the look of the ship and encroached onto the first class accommodation, yes the law was based on tonnage, but the numbers of boats were cut back to that limit.

          For an hour after the impact the passengers refused to get into the lifeboats as White Star's PR had told them the boat was 'Unsinkable' which was done to get revenues up.

          To save on the cost of steel the watertight bulkheads stopped short of the deck.

          The signal warning of ice was not taken to the bridge as the wireless operator was too busy transmitting the signals that made money.

          The binos were missing from the crows nest and no spares were carried to reduce the costs.

          She was steaming flat out as they wanted the good publicity and increased passenger revenues that a fastest maiden crossing would bring, indeed they wanted to get into New York in time to make the morning papers.

          There are more reasons, I could go on and on, but trust me, although the first class accommodation, fixtures & fittings were plush, that is where the extravagance both started and ended.

          1. Paul Lee 1

            Re: Common misconceptions

            Let me address some of your points.

            The Titanic did NOT use cheap steel and rivets. They were the best that could be obtained at the time. Analysis of some of the rivets showed that some of the steel is comparable to that used today, whereas others show a high degree of slag that could make them succeptible to damage. Quality control was in its infancy in those days, there was no taking of metallurgic samples for testing; why would Harland and Wolff's , the Builders, skimp on materials?

            I don't know much about the sea trials, but I was under the impression that the majority of the crew, including the engineering staff, continued to Southampton. Many of the crew had come from the Olympic, the Titanic's sister, so little "extra" training would be needed.

            The only evidence that the boats were cut back was because the Titanic complied with the law, and even exceeded it by 4 extra boats. The Welin davits could handle four boats apiece, and these were included in anticipation of a change in the law that would have compelled ships to carry a full complement of boats.

            There is no evidence that the ship was termed "unsinkable" for revenue reasons. It was termed unsinkable because those who built and sailed in it believed it to be so, based on the design.

            On the voyage that the Titanic sank, the ship was 2/3rds full, and this was only after passengers had been transferred from other crippled ships who could not sail because of a coal strike. There is a little proof to suggest that passengers were so confident in the first hour that the ship would not sink that they didn't enter the lifeboats. But the fault also lies in the hands of the crews preparing the boats. Only a couple knew that the ship was doomed, one of which was Captain Smith - and he only confided in one of his bridge crew. As far as the crew were concerned, the boat lowerings were seen as an inconvenient drill, as none of them knew the ship was doomed. This included the crew who were stationed in the bow and had seen water pouring into the hull.

            The bulkheads were not cut short for cost cutting reasons. She complied with the law. Admittedly, she did not gain Lloyd's accreditation, but the Board of Trade had an office

            at Harland Wolff. They saw the new ships everyday, and hundreds of tests were carried

            out even before the ship left for her trials. Her design was subject to scrutiny by the British

            Government - and passed. Ships of that area were designed to float with any two compartments flooded. The Titanic could do this and more - the first three out of four compartments could be flooded and the ship wouldn't have sunk. This was by design. Following the disaster, the shipbuilders were asked for more analysis, and they found that the design was better than they

            had thought. The ship could float with all four of her first compartments open to the sea.

            The Titanic had 6, with damage extending into a 7th. No ship could withstand this.

            The watertight bulkheads went up as far as they were legally required to do so. It is only in the middle section that the bulkheads went up to E deck, but still above the waterline. Those

            compartments at the front and back of the ship went up even higher, well after the waterline.

            These bulkheads were termed "collision bulkheads" - bulkheads that were designed to crumple and flood, absorbing energy in the event of a collision. Most ships were designed to stay afloat with the first or last compartment flooded (this is the "collision bulkhead"). As a matter of extra safety, the first two compartments on the Titanic were termed as collision bulkheads.

            I think 6 ice warning were received by the Titanic, one of which reported ice so far away from the Titanic's track that it could be ignored. The final, vital warning, was never sent to the bridge. The penultimate message was sent to the bridge about 4 hours before the collision, but the wireless operator could not remember who he gave it to. Of the remaining four messages, one was definitely seen by the surviving officers, and two of the three were acknolwedged by the captain. The sending station had sent a "M.S.G" with their messages - an RSVP for commanders. Captain Smith sent a reply back and a cheery message for the ice warnings, but none of the surviving officers said they saw them (very convenient!)

            The binoculars that had been used from Belfast to Southampton were indeed missing - but they were marked as being the property of the 2nd Officer, Blair, who left the ship due to a reshuffle of officers in Southampton. It is speculated that these binoculars were used by the "new" 2nd Officer, Lightoller. And why shouldn't he use them? Granted, the lookouts said that they had binoculars in other White Star Line ships, but when other captains of White Star - and other shipping lines - were asked to give evidence, they all dismissed binoculars as being of any great use. The problem is that they cut down on the vision too much, and are really only to be used to identify what a lookout has seen. The look-outs duty was to report to the bridge anything they had seen AND ONLY then use binoculars. I find the suggestion that extra binoculars were not carried to be laughable. All of the senior officers - four of them - were issued with binoculars, and were seen using them!

            There is some proof that the Titanic was aiming to get into New York on Tuesday evening rather than Wednesday morning, as you say.

            Apart from the last point, which came out in newspaper interviews and in legal matters against the White Star Line in later years (and of course, the line denied it), all of the above can be found in the inquiry transcripts

            1. asdf

              Re: Common misconceptions

              You keep saying complied with the law which is true but keep in mind in these days the laws allowed child labor in dangerous conditions. The law at the time was written to benefit a few robber barons at the expense of the poor (most people) and minorities (separate but equal haha). Sadly today for example with Massey Energy or even BP they don't even bother to comply with the law on the books. They buy off the regulators and or just pay for the damage after they get caught.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Common misconceptions

            "...White Star's PR had told them the boat was 'Unsinkable'.."

            In actual fact nobody ever called the Titanic unsinkable until AFTER it had sunk and then it was a newspaper reporter who actually used the phrase.

    3. Trevor Marron

      Re: Common misconceptions

      However it gets dressed up, if you do a primary root cause analysis on both the sinking of the Titanc and the high loss of life, the root cause analysis points to the suggestion that the White Star Line was trying to save as much money as possible on one hand, and on the other trying to make as much money as possible.

    4. Marty

      Re: Common misconceptions

      @ Paul lee 1,

      Damnnit, why spoil a good news article with...errr... what do you call them....

      oh yeah....

      FACTS !!


    5. Graham Wilson

      Re: Common misconceptions

      "The Titanic was never designed to be that fast, and on her only voyage "only" managed 22.5 knots"

      I don't think this is relevant, the zeitgeist of the time was very much the 'fastest to NY vice versa' in the same way that today the fastest jet service or fastest internet connection is. It would be truly amazing if Capt. Smith didn't have this in mind when he failed to slow the ship down after heeding multiple warnings.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        Re: Common misconceptions

        Titanic had an iceberg. The internet in the UK has BT.

        Seems reasonable :)

  7. Paul Smith

    Astronomical odds?

    "In astronomical terms, the odds of all these variables lining up in just the way they did were, well, astronomical."

    No... they were a certainity and a few minutes with a calculator will tell you when the next time this will be. And the time after that, and after that...

    1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Re: Astronomical odds?

      I think it is astounding that anyone could publish this tripe.

      I hope it wasn't peer reviewed.

      How would an iceberg manage to get off its arse and find its way out to sea in time to meet the Titanic so far from shore?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's luck got to do with it?

    'In astronomical terms, the odds of all these variables lining up in just the way they did were, well, astronomical.'

    There were no "odds" involved at all. It was just a configuration of objects dictated by well-known physical laws. OK those laws, when applied to more than jhust 2 bodies, can lead to chaotic solutions, but it's still predictable and there's no "chance" involved.

    The better statement would have been: 'In astronomical terms, it was inevitable that all these variables would on day line up just the way they did given the billions of years involved.'.

  9. Chris Glen-smith


    And how does this lead to more icebergs in the path of Titanic?

    I guess the intimation is that the extra high tides would break off more icebergs but the iceberg Titanic hit would have been drifting south from wherever it calved for quite a while, weeks probably? So the celestial alignments on the day are meaningless.

    1. Paul Lee 1

      Re: Nonsense?

      The icebergs drifted south on the Labrador current from Greenland, past Newfoundland and into the North Atlantic.

  10. Chris Glen-smith


    I re-read the article and retract my post, doh!

    fail for me

  11. Local Group

    It was the speed of the Titanic what sank her.

    Whether she was making 25 or 22.5 or 21 knots, had she been steaming at 15 or 12 knots when she hit the iceberg, the gash in her side would not have been as long, her watertight compartments would have held and only those passengers caught inside them would have perished.

    "The floating iceberg writes and having writ floats on, etc."

    1. Paul Lee 1

      Re: It was the speed of the Titanic what sank her.

      All the passengers and crew were above the waterline, with ample opportunities to escape. No-one perished in the initial impact.

      You raise interesting points. We don't know how long the damaged would be (and it wasn't a gash by the way, just a sprung seam of rivets); the speed hampered how quickly it took for the ship to get out of the way. Estimates vary for the distance from ship to iceberg; some estimate about 2000 feet, some think about half this. When your ship is moving at 26 miles per hour, you don't have a lot of time to think!

      1. Simon Neill

        Re: It was the speed of the Titanic what sank her.

        Well, in a gigantic ship like the Titanic at 26 mph you have plenty of time to think its just that after thinking for 30 seconds you realise that you should have slowed down and started turning last Thursday.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: It was the speed of the Titanic what sank her.

      There is also a bit more to this, I saw another report that said that the additional cold Labrador current water volume led to a temperature inversion over the sea. This would have made it very likely that a mirage effect would have hidden the iceberg from the lookouts until it was much closer to the ship.

      Other reports confirm that the Californian was unable to identify the Titanic because the atmospheric distortion caused her to appear much smaller and the crew thus thought they were looking at a different ship.

  12. Paul Lee 1

    While we're on the subject

    I am surprised that The Register hasn't picked up on this story: - don't get me started on this! I wrote a book on the thorny issue of the Californian, and it seems that any mention of that ship brings about heaps of opprobrium and abuse. That article is wrong in one respect; super refraction was suspected as being a cause way back in 1961 according to British Board of Trade papers that I dug up in my research.

  13. Local Group

    There were warnings from the look-outs.

    At a slower speed the officer on the bridge would have had more time for his corrective measures to work (reversing engines, jamming the tiller to the right to move the ship to the left). Even if the look-outs had not seen the berg sooner. Obviously, with a couple of minutes more of warning and at a slower speed, the impact would not have been as great and if the ship were 20 - 30 feet further away from the berg, it would not have penetrated the ship as deeply and popped the seam of rivets through as many watertight compartments.

    1. Trevor Marron

      Re: There were warnings from the look-outs.

      Only in those days you could not steer a boat if it was in reverse. So by putting the two screws that had gearboxes into reverse and stopping the main turbine screw the vessel was doomed.

      The rudder was also very small and basic as the White Star Line save money by not designing a better, bigger, more up-to-date one.

  14. WFW

    Three months before, maybe

    From the article: "[...] the Earth had passed its closest in a very long while to the Sun just the day before."

    Not exactly. The Moon's orbit precesses so that its perigee changes constantly. The Earth's orbit around the Sun precesses vastly more slowly, with its perihelion currently always in the first week of January.

    On Jan 4th, 1912, these two events coincided to within 5 hours, a full Moon. There would have been much larger than normal spring tides around that date, possibly freeing grounded icebergs as the article stated. But, it's a reach to give this a major place in the circumstances of the Titanic's disaster.

  15. roger stillick
    Thumb Up

    the rudder did it

    From all things seen on local Telly, Titanic had no sea trials, so, no steering trials, per Telly engineers= the rudder wasnt big enough or properly shaped to actually steer the ship... same problem with sister ship- though I thought she floundered in a storm and sunk... Thumbs up as we need to see more of this comic relief from daily life...

    1. Paul Lee 1

      Re: the rudder did it

      People often complain that the rudder was too small, but a modern day analysis shows that the rudder was only 5% smaller than a comparable modern day ship would have. The Titanic did have sea trials, and her manoeuvering was tested during these trials. The Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, continued sailing successfully until broken up in the 1930s. The younger sister, the Britannic, was requisitioned as a hospital ship in World War 1 and sunk by a mine in 1915.

      1. Trevor Marron

        Re: the rudder did it

        Size is not everything, design is more important. For the design of the rudder, the one on 'Titanic' was too small. A better design, like the ones on the Cunard ships of the time would have been much better.

        As for the Britannic after she hit the mine she simply shattered and fell apart. That was because of the poor steel and rivets, the same poor steel and rivets that opened up on the Titanic.

    2. Paul RND*1000

      Re: the rudder did it

      And the moral of the story is: don't believe everything you see on TV.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I take it from what you're all saying

    that my belief the Daleks caused the ship to sink while pursuing the one they call 'doc-tor' is wrong, then?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    “They went full speed into a region with icebergs - that’s really what sank the ship"

    Mystery solved. Good work boys!

  18. Dick Emery

    'Bottom' of the sea

    So it was DiCaprio's great, great grandfathers arse all along that sunk her to the 'bottom' along with all it's seamen.

    Assberg ahead!

  19. Framitz

    don't blame the moon

    twas incompetence that sunk that ship.

  20. Lars Silver badge
    IT Angle

    The IT angle

    Nice header, Titanic seems to interest us still.

    As far as I have understood she could have survived bye ramming the iceberg head on and not trying to turn. Now that is interesting because probably no living person on the bridge would have had the courage or brain power to work that out and take such an action.

    Suppose Titanic was "run" by a computer, would that computer then have reacted in an intelligent way. After all computers are programmed by humans.

    Any way the disaster was caused by "human error" as the saying goes.

    I have more "understanding" for the Titanic disaster than for the Airbus lost into the Atlantic.

    1. Mike Flugennock

      Re: The IT angle

      "Suppose Titanic was "run" by a computer..."

      Two words: Daisy, Daisy...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Down among the dead men

    I've heard some crazy luna-esque theories but surely this one should be sunk.

  22. Jim Birch

    Another spanking theory heading for a tone down

    The biggest influences on iceberg variations are currents and time of year. Currents are largely driven by winds. Even if the moon zipped in real close and floated a lot of grounded icebergs up North those bergs have to get down to the Titanic. In fact, the Titanic sank in an area where the current is usually the northward flowing ice-free Gulf Stream, not the southward Labrador Current that would bring icebergs. An unusual wind pattern over the preceding months would be required to increase the Labrador Current so it pushed down to the UK-NY shipping route bringing the icebergs. I don't have any record to prove that, but that's how currents work.

    So, kind tides might have floated a few more icebergs; but a bumper current was needed to get then down into the shipping route.

  23. Hairy Airey

    It was a combination of events that sunk the Titanic

    No binoculars - so not able to determine whether you are looking at a small iceberg nearby or a large iceberg far away on a very calm sea (the waves would give you depth of field).

    Reversing the engines - this stopped the centre engine which couldn't be reversed. It would have been better to reverse one engine as it would have turned faster.

    Ignoring iceberg warnings - radio operator more interested in sending personal messages, the equivalent of the text messaging of it's day.

    The failure to make the watertight compartments completely watertight - they modified the Olympic after the sinking.

    What is bad is that another ship that was nearer could have come to its rescue but chose not to. Also, Titanic had four more lifeboats than required by law. After its sinking all ships had to have a space for every person on board, and still do.

    Some people reckon that if Titanic had not tried to avoid the iceberg it would have survived. The wreck of the Titanic shows that its hull split up on sinking making this unlikely. A head on collision would have split the hull, sinking it almost immediately. It's a shame that the lookout Frederick Fleet never realised this he committed suicide in 1965. He never could come to terms with why he survived when so many died.

    Unfortunately the state of whistleblowing legislation in the workplace means another Titanic like event could happen any time.

  24. Sceptic Tank Bronze badge
    IT Angle

    Lunatic story I tells ya!

    Anyway, what's the IT angle again? Let me see if I can figure this out:

    * Moon sinks Titanic

    * Nasa sends V2 rev B rocket to the moon.

    * Rev B uses computers

    * Computers use silicon

    * Silicon is found on the moon.

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