The sinking of the ocean liner Titanic in the night of 14 April 1912 is perhaps the most famous--and most studied--disaster of the 20th century.
A team of astronomers from Texas State University-San Marcos, USA, has applied its celestial sleuthing to the disaster to examine how a rare lunar event stacked the deck against the Titanic.
Their results shed new light on the hazardous sea ice conditions the ship boldly steamed into that fateful night.
Inspired by the visionary work of the late oceanographer Fergus J. Wood of San Diego who suggested that an unusually close approach by the moon on 4 January 1912 may have caused abnormally high tides, the Texas State research team investigated how pronounced this effect may have been.
What they found was that a once-in-many-lifetimes event occurred.
The moon and sun had lined up in such a way their gravitational pulls enhanced each other, an effect well-known as a “spring tide“.
The moon’s perigee—closest approach to Earth—proved to be its closest in 1,400 years, and came within six minutes of a full moon.
On top of that, the Earth’s perihelion—closest approach to the sun—happened the day before, the closest approach in 1,400 years.