A US-based meteorological researcher has suggested that a solar flare may have contributed to the sinking of the Titanic and her theory is actually quite possible.
On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic began its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from England to New York. In the late night hours of April 14th, the 883-foot luxurious ocean liner that was carrying about 2,200 people, hit an iceberg and sank a little more than two and a half hours after the collision (at 2:20 a.m. on April 15th), killing more than 1,500 people.
According to Mila Zinkova’s study, those on board the Titanic had a spectacular view of an aurora borealis on the night of the sinking. Zinkova believes that the solar flare that caused the aurora was powerful enough to have disrupted several instruments on Titanic such as throwing off the compass readings which led to the vessel sailing directly towards an iceberg. Additionally, there may have been interference in the radio transmissions which could have prevented other nearby ships from hearing some of their distress signals. While some of their messages probably weren’t heard, the RMS Carpathia did hear the distress signals and went immediately to their rescue.
In an interview with Hakai magazine, Zinkova discussed her theory, “Most people who write about Titanic, they don’t know that northern lights were seen on that night,” adding, “Even if the compass moved only one degree, it already could have made a difference.”
Author and Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley confirmed that there was in fact an aurora borealis that night as he wrote that from the lifeboat he noticed “a faint glow in the sky ahead on the starboard quarter, the first gleams, we thought, of the coming dawn,” adding, “But we were doomed to disappointment: the soft light increased for a time, and died away a little; glowed again, and then remained stationary for some minutes! “The Northern Lights”! It suddenly came to me, and so it was.”
Additionally, second officer James Bisset of the RMS Carpathia that arrived to rescue the survivors, wrote in his log book, “The weather was calm, the sea smooth, with no wind. The sky was clear, and the stars were shining. There was no moon, but the Aurora Borealis glimmered like moonbeams shooting up from the northern horizon.” Interestingly, he wrote that approximately an hour prior to the Titanic hitting the iceberg and the aurora borealis was still lighting up the sky around five hours after his initial log report.
While Zinkova’s theory of a solar storm affecting the ship’s instruments and being a contributing factor to it hitting the iceberg is a reasonable and very possible explanation, other people aren’t so sure. Titanic historian Tim Maltin told Hakai magazine that while he does agree that evidence points to a solar storm happening that night, “I think it was not a significant factor”.
On the other hand, space and atmospheric physicist Chris Scott from the University of Reading said, “The fact that so many people saw the aurora makes me confident that there was a space weather event happening,” and that it could explain why some of the radio transmissions were heard by other ships while others were not.
The remains of the Titanic were discovered in 1985 by underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard and since then, dozens of expeditions have taken place by researchers hoping to learn more about the tragedy that sunk the luxurious liner. Several pictures of the Titanic can be seen here.