Um… Happy Anniversary, Titanic?

Just before midnight on April 14th, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg. Yes, this really happened. No, it wasn’t just James Cameron making shit up. I thought I should state that for the record, because it seems some folks these days aren’t aware of that fact. I know you already know this, my darlings, but in case you encounter someone who doesn’t realize the Titanic actually existed, and in fact still does, only at the bottom of the sea, you can point them this way for some loving correction and some science. Also, a book recommendation: A Night to Remember is a great book on the disaster. I read it when I was still in single digits and never forgot it. The author did a magnificent job bringing the whole sad story to life.

So that’s one purpose of this post: to ensure that, on the anniversary of its sinking (it broke up and went under just after two on the morning of the 15th), in case there are any lingering doubts, the fact is stated: Yes, Virginia, there was a Titanic. 1,517 people died aboard it. And it’s important to remember what happened and why, because those folks didn’t have to die. We learn from disasters like this, even ones that are a century old.

But it’s not just about hubris and the necessity of safety regulations that mandate things like enough lifeboats for all souls onboard, although those things are critically important. The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is also a prime excuse opportunity to explore some truly fascinating science, which is the second reason for this post.

You already know about my post, “The Real Heart of the Ocean,” which explores the geology of the necklace that inspired that monstrosity lovely piece worn by Kate Winslet in the movie. Of course you do. And you’ve read it, right? Right?

But you may not have read David Bressan’s post on the iceberg that took down an ocean liner. That’s right, my darlings: two posts on geology related to the Titanic! And you knew we weren’t going to neglect the iceberg. Of course not.

Iceberg photographed on April 15th, 1912. It's an iceberg, possibly the iceberg. For more info, see David's post, which I filched this from.

And there’s more science where that comes from: a whole page on Scientific American dedicated to the science of the Titanic, complete with contemporary articles from the archives.

It doesn’t feel right saying “Happy anniversary!” But taking this moment to remember those who lost their lives and those who survived does. And the science of the Titanic is fascinating. There’s a lot more to the story than the movie could portray. If just one person who saw the 3D release lands here looking for more information and leaves with a whole new appreciation for science (and safety regulations), I’ll be well pleased.

Um… Happy Anniversary, Titanic?
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7 thoughts on “Um… Happy Anniversary, Titanic?

  1. 1

    One more perspective, from England’s Les Barker (who I suspect is at least imaginatively related to our friend the Cuttlefish). “Have you got any news of the iceberg?” is just the first 3 minutes of this video:

  2. 2

    More interesting and informative, I think, is the testimony before the Senate by the survivors shortly after the disaster as well as the contemporary writings of authors like Joseph Conrad. There is less myth and legend and, while still a tendency to draw moral lessons from the event, it comes off less as an example of humanity at its finest and more like the gigantic screw-up that killed 1500 people that it actually was.
    My short take on this tragedy.

  3. 3

    I am really annoyed at all the attempts to move the tragedy from a lesson in human gross incompetence, to the current fashion of finding excuses as to why it would have been an unavoidable accident. Another instance of rewriting history to make it more palatable.

  4. F

    If you were annoyed by that, you may also be irritated by this, which I had Seen On TV and made me throw up a little. It was like the Anti-Geology or something.

  5. 5

    People have been looking to make money on the tragedy of Titanic since she went down right on through and including the 100th anniversary of the sinking. Holy shit, there’s an ad on this very page for a chunk of ‘Authentic Titanic Coal’ encased in some cheap blue plastic. And for chrissakes, there are people who’ll buy this shit. Let’s ignore the fact that the stuff isn’t worth the energy it took to produce. No, the real offense of this sort of thing is that it amounts to dancing on the graves of the 1500 plus people who lost their lives that night, and while I’m an atheist of the first degree, I still can’t abide that sociopathic shit. As F said: It made me throw up a little. What the fuck is wrong with people?

    Anyone want to buy some of these coasters made from the Space Shuttle Challenger debris? Jesus H Christ.

    I do believe I’m ready now for that extinction level event.

  6. 6

    ‘A Night to Remember’ was also made into a very moving film, which James Cameron drew on quite heavily. It has most of the good bits of the Cameron film without the bad bits, although it can’t match the special effects.

  7. rq

    Still a very touching movie – this was the only Titanic movie I was willing to consider as ‘correct’ for a very long time, especially after seeing how much of its story and how many of its images were ‘reflected’ in James Cameron’s version. And while it cannot match the special effects (if I remember correctly, it doesn’t show the Titanic’s stern breaking off, as for a long time nobody believed that would have happened – despite eye-witness accounts), it makes for an (at least) equally moving view. In my opinion.

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