Optical Illusion Helped Sink Titanic
Mirage kept ship from seeing iceberg in time, getting help, says researcher
By Dustin Lushing,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 3, 2012 8:07 AM CST
In this April 10, 1912, file photo, the Titanic leaves Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage to New York City.   (AP Photo, File)

(Newser) – Why exactly did the Titanic plow into that deadly iceberg? New research argues that an optical illusion played a big role. As the theory goes, atmospheric conditions generated a phenomenon known as "super refraction," explains Smithsonian Magazine. This bending of lights can create mirages, and it had a two-fold effect that night in 1912: It prevented the Titanic from seeing the iceberg in time, and it kept the nearby ship Californian from realizing that the Titanic was in danger.

In fact, when the Titanic fired distress rockets, the Californian ignored them because crew members were "unsure of what they saw," says the magazine. The idea that super refraction played a part in the famous disaster was floated in 1992, but not until recently did someone—a British historian named Tim Maltin—analyze weather records, survivor's accounts, and ship logs, to bolster the theory. Read the full explainer here.