A century after the Titanic disaster, scientists may have found an unexpected culprit for the sinking: the Moon.
The transatlantic liner went down in the early hours of 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg, killing 1,517 people. But, says Donald Olson, a Texas State University physicist whose team of forensic astronomers examined the Moon's role, "the lunar connection may explain how an unusually large number of icebergs got into the path of the Titanic".
His team investigated speculation by the late oceanographer Fergus Wood that an unusually close approach by the Moon in January 1912 may have produced such high tides that more icebergs than usual separated from Greenland and floated into shipping lanes.
Professor Olson said that, on 4 January 1912, the Moon and the Sun lined up in such a way that their gravitational pulls enhanced each other. At the same time, the Moon's closest approach to Earth that January was the closest in 1,400 years, and the point of closest approach occurred within six minutes of the full moon. On top of that, the Earth's closest approach to the Sun in a year had happened the previous day.
This would have dislodged icebergs that reached shipping lanes by April.