Researcher Shows Northern Lights May Have Led to Titanic Sinking
The sinking of the Titanic has been the subject of many books, articles, and motion pictures. We are all familiar with the fact that it sank when it collided with an iceberg. However, an American meteorologist believes that the aurora borealis, better known as the Northern Lights, played a part in the Titanic sinking. This space weather event, as it is known, led to navigational and wireless problems that caused the Titanic to collide with an iceberg. The Titanic sinking story is old but new theories are not unusual for such an epic disaster.
The RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 15, 1912. It was the largest ship ever built at the time. It was constructed in the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. It was the largest ship afloat in the world when she launched. Five days into her voyage the ship struck an iceberg, and this caused its hull to break. The vessel sank in about two and a half hours, and some 1,500 passengers and crew drowned.
The Titanic sinking involved an iceberg but what else went wrong? (Michael Rosskothen / Adobe Stock)
How The Northern lights Could Have Sunk The Titanic
The official investigation of the Titanic sinking concluded that the captain and the ship’s design were to blame. An American researcher now believes that the aurora borealis or a solar flare was, in fact, a major contributing factor in the disaster. At least four survivors of the world’s most infamous ship are reported to have seen the lights of a solar flare on that fateful night.
Mila Zinkova, an independent American researcher, told Hakai Magazine that “Most people who write about Titanic, they don’t know that northern lights were seen on that night.” This phenomenon, known as a solar flare, is a spectacular light show in the skies that is caused by charged particles from the sun. James Bisset, second officer of the RMS Carpathia, the first ship on the scene after the disaster happened, wrote in his log that the “Aurora Borealis glimmered like moonbeams shooting up from the northern horizon” on the night of the sinking, according to the Daily Mail. While the Northern Lights may be beautiful, they are also potentially dangerous, as they are associated with geomagnetic storms.
The Northern Lights are beautiful but also dangerous for ship navigation. (Felix Pergande / Adobe Stock)
Geomagnetic Storms Disrupt Wireless Sets And Compasses
Ms Zinkova is quoted by the Daily Mail as saying that the “geomagnetic storm may have been large enough to influence navigation to a small, but nevertheless significant degree.” This would have caused the crew to make navigational adjustments, which set the vessel slightly off course. As a result, it sailed in the direction of a gigantic iceberg that had become detached from an ice field. “Even if the compass moved only one degree, it already could have made a difference,” said Ms Zinkova, according to Hakai Magazine.
The solar flare likely also interrupted the wireless communication equipment onboard the Titanic. For example “A steamer, SS La Provence, did not receive messages from the Titanic, though it did hear broadcasts from other ships,” reports Hakai Magazine. While another vessel did receive messages from the doomed liner, the messages it sent back could not be received by the crew of the Titanic. Because of the solar flare, the Titanic was unable to call for help in a reliable way, and this may have led to the deaths of many people.
Researcher Models Space Weather On That Horrible Night
Ms Zinkova modelled the space weather on that terrible night. And based on her model, she believes that the space weather disruption was strong enough to prevent wireless and compass equipment from functioning properly. In the Weather journal, Ms Zinkova wrote that “The significant space weather event was in the form of a moderate to strong geomagnetic storm that observational evidence suggests was in effect in the North Atlantic at the time of the tragedy.” Even today, it is well known that space weather events can disrupt technology.
Blue lightening flashes across the sky in this space weather event. (Pavel / Adobe Stock)
Chris Scott of the University of Reading, who was not involved in the study, told Hakai Magazine an example of space weather disruption occurred “in 1972 when dozens of sea mines suddenly exploded off the coast of Vietnam—space weather is believed to have been the cause.” Then there is the so-called Carrington Effect, first observed by astronomers in 1859. This was a particularly large solar storm and, according to Hakai Magazine, “affected electronic equipment, with telegraph operators witnessing sparks flying out of their machines.”
Ironically, Northern Lights May Have Helped Rescue Survivors
The American researcher believes that the unusual space weather contributed to the Titanic sinking, a ship that was believed to be unsinkable. However, ironically, the solar flare may have helped the rescue efforts. The “Carpathia succeeded in sailing directly to the Titanic's drifting lifeboats,” reports the Daily Mail. This was because the space weather prevented the Titanic crew from sending the incorrect coordinates to the Carpathia. Moreover, the vivid light in the sky may have allowed the rescuers to see the Titanic’s lifeboats.
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Not everyone agrees with the findings. Tim Maltin, a noted Titanic expert, admitted that while there was a solar flare that dreadful night, it “was not a significant factor in the sinking,” reports the Daily Mail. This new research angle on the Titanic sinking potentially highlights how solar flares and other space weather events could result in future accidents. They could interfere with technologies and this could have catastrophic consequences. Some experts believe that a powerful solar flare could destroy or paralyze modern human societies, because we are so dependent on technologies such as satellites.
By Ed Whelan