Did the Titanic Sink Because of an Optical Illusion?
New research may have found the reason why the ship struck an iceberg: light refraction
An unusual optical phenomenon explains why the Titanic struck an iceberg and received no assistance from a nearby ship, according to new research by British historian Tim Maltin. Atmospheric conditions in the area that night were ripe for super refraction, Maltin found. This extraordinary bending of light causes miraging, which, he discovered, was recorded by several ships in the area. He says it also prevented the Titanic’s lookouts from seeing the iceberg in time and the freighter Californian from identifying the ocean liner and communicating with it. A 1992 British government investigation suggested that super refraction may have played a role in the disaster, but that possibility went unexplored until Maltin mined weather records, survivors’ testimony and long-forgotten ships’ logs.
Tip: The Anomalist
This hypothesis about the wreck explains several anomalies. The thermal inversion may have caused a mirage called a superior image (objects appear higher, and therefore nearer, than they actually are), in this case, the horizon was a false horizon. High pressure kept the air free of fog. The iceberg was not seen in time due to the distortion. The stratified air also distorted and disrupted the Morse lamp signals as described by another nearby ship.
This is a plausible mechanism for why things failed as they did.
A second article suggests how the iceberg got there to begin with.
Astronomers David Olson and Russell Doescher say they have discovered that a “supermoon” event coincided with spring tide and Earth’s perihelion (the point where it is nearest the sun) on or around the same January night one century ago. Together, these events caused extreme tides that could have dislodged icebergs and flung them into southbound ocean currents. By Apr. 14, one of these bergs could have dipped just south of Newfoundland, right in time to intercept the Titanic’s maiden voyage.
Though the ultimate cause of the deadly shipwreck was the failure of the Titanic crew to respond to warning messages about the icy conditions that night, “the lunar connection may explain how an unusually large number of icebergs got into the path of the Titanic”
This idea, however, is not so plausible according to John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Washington who studied the correlation between tides and seismic activity. He calls this theory far-fetched and likens it to the “butterfly effect” whereby a small perturbation can cause big effects someplace else.
“It seems quite a stretch to argue that a few hours of high tides more than three months prior would have such a dramatic effect,” he said.
The truth is, a lot of factors came together to cause this momentous catastrophe. We’ll never know every detail of exactly why.