We all know the story behind the sinking of the Titanic: the ice warnings that went unheeded, the scramble for lifeboats and the people left behind to drown. But you might be surprised to learn that something else may have been afoot during that cold, fateful night on the Atlantic Ocean. Amazingly, one meteorologist has claimed that events unfolding out in space may have had a hand in one of history’s most famous tragedies.
For more than a century, a rogue iceberg has been blamed for the incident in which over 1,500 people lost their lives. But might there have been another factor behind the sinking? In August 2020 an article appeared in the meteorological journal Weather. And it made some bold claims about what really sent the Titanic to its watery grave.
According to researcher Mila Zinkova, the luxurious liner was crossing the Atlantic under some unusual conditions when it met its tragic fate. Many miles out into space, something strange was occurring. Shockingly, the study’s author believes that this may have played a role in the Titanic’s final hours.
From novels and non-fiction books to Hollywood movies, we have heard the Titanic’s story countless times. Yet might there be another chapter still to be revealed? Zinkova is not the first person to come up with an explosive theory many decades after the sinking. But she may have hit on one of the most convincing.
RMS Titanic was already one of the world’s most famous ships by the time it set sail from the English city of Southampton on April 10, 1912. Its owners – the White Star Line – considered the vessel to be practically unsinkable. After all, it was built to the very highest specifications, and the ship attracted passengers from all walks of life.
After leaving Southampton, the Titanic called at Cherbourg, France, and then the port of Queenstown – now Cobh – in Ireland. When it eventually set sail across the Atlantic towards New York on April 11, it was carrying some 1,300 passengers and around 900 crew. And while some were members of high society drawn by the ship’s reputation, others were poor workers hoping for a fresh start in the new world.
It is mostly the first-class passengers of the Titanic who we remember today. After all, the vessel boasted an impressive roll call with names such as John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Straus. But these powerful men were just three souls among hundreds who perished the night that the famous liner went down.
But how much would a ticket on the world’s most famous liner have set you back? Well, the cheapest would’ve cost the equivalent of just $170, according to Titanic film director James Cameron’s official website. And the most expensive state rooms were around $50,000 today. In first class, passengers had access to amenities such as a swimming bath, barber and squash court, while those in third were confined to cramped quarters.
Yet despite their different circumstances, many of the passengers on the Titanic would ultimately share the same unfortunate fate. But what exactly happened to the pride and joy of the White Star Line? Well, after leaving Ireland, the vessel set out for New York City – a journey that was supposed to take just under six days. But as we all know, it sadly never arrived.
By now, the story of the Titanic has become imprinted on popular culture, and it typically goes something like this. During the day and into the evening of April 14, radio operators in the Titanic’s Marconi Room received a number of messages informing the ship of ice ahead. Yet those warnings apparently went ignored.
According to some, the man at the helm – Captain Edward Smith – was under pressure from the White Star Line to reach New York in record time. So he pushed on despite the warnings. But whatever the reason, the Titanic did not slow down as it entered the dangerous ice field. And at 11:40 p.m., tragedy struck.
From the lookout, a huge iceberg was seen looming out of the dark. And even though first officer William Murdoch tried to maneuver the Titanic past the obstacle, the ship’s right side was torn open. After the collision, water began flooding into the liner – breaching the watertight compartments in its hull.
As the Titanic began to go down, Captain Smith gave the order to start filling the lifeboats. Yet in a tragic twist, there were not enough spaces to go round. Officially, the policy was women and children first. But many men in first class found their way into vessels, while those who should have had priority were stranded on board.
At 2:15 a.m. the last of the Titanic’s lifeboats launched out into the freezing Atlantic. Moments later, the force of the sinking caused the great ship to split in two. The world’s most famous ocean liner then slipped beneath the waves just five minutes after the final survivors had escaped. Despite the heroic actions of the radio operators, it would take the first rescue vessel almost two hours to reach the scene.
Eventually, the RMS Carpathia arrived at the spot of the sinking – some 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada. But despite spending several hours searching for survivors, rescuers only managed to pull around 700 people from the water alive. Tragically, approximately 1,500 passengers had perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic.
The Titanic’s sinking had made headlines around the world by the time that the Carpathia had arrived in New York carrying the survivors. And ever since, it has remained an incident at the forefront of popular culture. Yet while some of the stories surrounding the ill-fated vessel are rooted in fact, others have turned out to be little more than myths.
Of course, the Titanic did leave a number of real, tangible legacies behind. But what were they? Well, the tragedy inspired a change in law which required vessels to carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board a ship. It also cemented men such as Astor, Guggenheim and Straus in history as heroes. Unlike others – who were rescued as women and children drowned – they went down with the ship and died what was considered to be an honorable death.
Yet what you may not know is that some of the stories associated with the Titanic appear to have little basis in fact. According to the BBC, there is little evidence to prove that Captain Smith deliberately ignored ice warnings in order to reach New York at speed. And contrary to popular belief – spurred on by the 1997 eponymous movie – third-class passengers were not locked below decks as the vessel sank.
In the years since the incident, many myths and legends have also sprung up surrounding the circumstances which caused the Titanic to sink. Perhaps the most famous conspiracy theory is the one surrounding American banker J. P. Morgan. According to some, the millionaire was at odds with Astor, Guggenheim and Straus – having clashed over plans for the Federal Reserve.
Morgan was allegedly due to sail on the Titanic, but he changed his plans at the last minute. Instead, some claim, he arranged the sinking as a way to off his rivals without suspicion. And even if this unlikely tale is untrue, alternative stories have accused other powerful dynasties – such as the Rothschilds – of having played a role in the tragedy.
But how could one individual – albeit an influential one – have arranged for the Titanic to strike an iceberg and sink? There is also no evidence that Astor or Guggenheim opposed the Federal Reserve. As for Straus, it seems that the millionaire was actually in support of the system.
And it turns out that there are some other outlandish claims regarding the Titanic’s sinking. Some have claimed that the vessel was sunk not in an elaborate assassination attempt, but as an insurance scam. According to this theory, the liner’s sister ship the Olympic was severely damaged during a sailing in 1911. So in a bid to recoup the costs, the White Star Line swapped the two ships around – cashing in on the policy of the more famous vessel.
But like the J.P. Morgan accusations, this theory comes with a number of holes, too. Chief among them is probably the fact that the insurance payout on the Titanic was not high enough to cover the loss of the Olympic. But this hasn’t stopped a number of commenters from repeating the story.
Amazingly, these are two of the least outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. Everything from cursed Egyptian artifacts to hidden anti-Catholic messages have been associated with the tragedy over the years. Yet not every claim offering an alternative to the established facts is quite so absurd.
In fact, many serious publications paid attention when Mila Zinkova published her study in Weather in August 2020. But what had she found? Well, according to the researcher – who is not affiliated with a particular institution – a strange bout of space weather may have affected the Titanic’s fate.
Specifically, Zinkova uncovered evidence suggesting that the phenomenon known as the Northern Lights had been spotted during the sinking. In the early hours of April 15, it seems, the aurora borealis was seen dancing in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean. And despite the tragedy that was unfolding, a number of survivors took note of the otherworldly light show.
For those of you who don’t know, the aurora borealis is formed when a solar flare sends charged particles from the sun into the Earth’s atmosphere. There, they interact with terrestrial molecules and atoms – creating an impressive display of colors for observers many miles below. But this geomagnetic activity does more than just emit a magical glow.
For instance, back in 1859 a geomagnetic storm dubbed the Carrington Event wrought havoc across North America and Europe. According to reports, the resultant power surge caused sparks to fly from pylons and left telegraph operators reeling from electric shocks. And if a similar storm occurred today, experts believe that it could have disastrous consequences.
So did the events taking place out in space on April 15 affect the fate of the Titanic? Certainly, there is plenty of evidence to show that the aurora borealis was out in force that night. And survivor Lawrence Beesley described the phenomenon in his 1912 book The Loss of the SS Titanic. Apparently, those in the lifeboats had grown hopeful as a dim light – which they believed to be a sign of dawn – had appeared on the horizon.
“We were not certain of the time and were eager perhaps to accept too readily any relief from darkness – only too glad to be able to look each other in the face and see who were our companions in good fortune; to be free from the hazard of lying in a steamer’s track, invisible in the darkness,” Beesley wrote. “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.”
Yet Beesley wasn’t the only one who spotted the Northern Lights flickering over the ocean on the night the Titanic sank. Second officer James Bisset wrote about seeing the phenomenon on April 14 in the logbook of the rescue ship Carpathia. The entry read, “There was no moon, but the aurora borealis glimmered like moonbeams shooting up from the northern horizon.”
Hours later, Bisset penned another entry when the Carpathia approached the spot where the Titanic had disappeared beneath the waves. This time, it read, “Though the night was cloudless, and the stars were shining, the peculiar atmospheric conditions of visibility intensified as we approached the icefield, with the greenish beams of the aurora borealis shimmering and confusing the horizon ahead of us to the northwards.”
But even if the Northern Lights were spotted the night that the Titanic went down, how exactly could they have influenced the famous sinking? Well, Zinkova argues that the geomagnetic activity responsible for the aurora might also have affected the ship’s compass. This could have pulled it off course – and into the path of the iceberg.
In the study, Zinkova explained that even a deviation as small as 0.5 degrees could have dramatically affected the liner’s course. She wrote, “This apparently insignificant error could have made the difference between colliding with the iceberg and avoiding it.” And that wasn’t all. Apparently, the unusual weather in space may also have stopped the ship’s distress calls from getting through.
We now know that the Carpathia wasn’t alone that night. After the disaster, we learned that other vessels had actually been in the area when the Titanic had gone down. But tragically, they had failed to come to the stricken liner’s aid. In the initial report about the incident, investigators suggested that amateur radio enthusiasts had unintentionally prevented messages from getting through.
But Zinkova has a different theory. At the time, she realized, researchers did not fully understand the impact that geomagnetic storms could have on communication systems. And in her study, she proposed that space activity – as well as human error – may have interrupted the transmission of vital SOS signals.
But if the Northern Lights really did help bring the Titanic down, they also may have contributed to the rescue effort as well. According to reports, the Carpathia was given slightly inaccurate coordinates for the location of the floundering ship. So when it arrived, it was in a position some 13.5 nautical miles from where the liner had actually sunk, according to MailOnline.
Ironically, this mistake actually led the Carpathia directly to the drifting lifeboats – enabling them to swiftly rescue survivors from the freezing conditions. And according to Zinkova, it may have been the effects of the geomagnetic storm that brought the vessel, coincidentally, to the right place. Once it got there, the Northern Lights could well have helped by illuminating the rescue mission.
Of course, not everyone agrees that the appearance of the Northern Lights played a major role in the sinking of the Titanic. In a September 2020 interview with Hakai Magazine, for instance, expert Tim Maltin claimed that geomagnetic events were not a “significant factor” in the tragedy. Yet he acknowledged that the aurora borealis was likely present on the night that the ship went down.
In response to Maltin’s claims, Zinkova admitted that it is difficult to know for sure whether or not the Northern Lights really had a hand in the sinking. But with some researchers predicting a surge in geomagnetic activity over the coming years, it seems more important than ever to understand their impact on our planet. And in a world more dependent on technology than ever before, we could be heading for an even bigger disaster in the future.