I was channel surfing when I ran into a replay of Titanic on WTBS over the weekend. I paused for a few minutes, as the iceberg was about to strike, and I had just re-read "The Night Lives On" by Walter Lord, updating what we know about Titanic sinking.
My family has seen the show, but they stuck around in the room as we saw the impact and the immediate reaction.Later, we came back to the movie, and it was time for the sinking.
I was impressed with how clear and bright the computer generated stars were in the wide shots.But it also got me to thinking, since the stars and planets have been especially clear this week, what was up and showing on that night back in 1912?
It shouldn't be hard... all you'd need to do is enter the right data in a planetarium or a similar star gazing program.. but which one?
I wrote to the Anderson Planetarium at Marietta College and asked, and got an almost immediate response, recommending www.stellarium.org , a free program that will simulate the heavens. I downloaded the free program and was very impressed with all the options and realistic views that the program allows. I highly recommend it.
But I also posted the question on a Q&A bulletin board that I frequent, and got this response. They said a similar question had been asked by NASA space guru Neil DeGrassie, and he had a few comments about it on You-tube. Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICsgjqVvtM0
I watched his critical comment about the making of the movie Titanic, and though I wasn't as upset as he was, I have to admit, I noticed right away that the stars were random and not accurate in the movie.
But that still leaves the question, what planets were up that night?
Answer: Mars had just set, and Jupiter was just rising in the SE.
Where was the moon? It was very very close to a new moon, as testimony given by the survivors described it as a black and moonless night, with no waves and calm conditions.
Sure enough, the desktop program mimicked this exactly. You can set the location to the sinking of the Titanic, set the horizon to be the ocean, and look around, spotting the brighter stars Castor and Pollux, and Antares, as well as Mars and Jupiter. But it also spots the large asteroid Vesta (though nobody saw it).
It may not mean much to you, but I'm impressed by our ability to answer the question...why couldn't they see the iceberg in time?
Answer: There wasn't much light. Certainly no moon, and no really bright stars or planets to illuminate the open sea.
Second Answer: If they had plotted the report of pack ice, icebergs and warning through the day, they would have gotten am image of a wall of ice directly in their path. But they didn't.... and all that's history now.
Kinda neat having this technology at our fingertips, isn't it?