The Titanic ruins"New 3D Scan of Titanic Wreckage: Revealing a Grim Perspective"

This story appeared in the September/October 2020 issue as part of the Find out coverage of the magazine’s 40th anniversary. We hope you will subscribe to Find out and help support the next 40 years of delivering science that matters. The story was further updated in 2023.

At dawn on April 15, 1912, the “Unsinkable Ship” sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Just two days earlier, Titanic set off on its journey carrying over 2,200 crew and passengers. World-class facilities on board the ship include a gym, hammam and even a saltwater swimming pool, attracting some of the world’s wealthiest jet setters.

Tragically, over 1,500 people died in the North Atlantic after a monumental collision with an iceberg. Most of you are familiar with the horrific story. But you may not be aware of the epic journey that led to its discovery, or when Titanic has been found.

The search of Titanic

The most famous shipwreck in history was still a needle in a haystack at the bottom of the ocean when Find out the debut issue hit newsstands in 1980. The following historical account of the search for Titanic is from the original article in Find out of the magazine October 1980 issue:

The voice on the phone from the ship to the shore sounded excited.

“We think we’ve found it Titanic!” Mike Harris, leader of a highly publicized expedition that has been scouring the Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland since July [1980]was looking for the legendary ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. Harris and his crew had good reason for optimism.

They carried $250,000 worth of advanced sonar equipment specially designed under the supervision of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory. They couldn’t miss.

But they did. In late August, the explorers docked in Boston, driven home by bad weather and supply shortages—and worse, admitting failure. That was not what the sonar equipment had detected Titanicbut a protrusion in a deep-water canyon.

The story as it appeared in the October 1980 issue of Discover.

Still, there was some hope. Fred N. Spies, director of the Marine Physics Laboratory at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, believes the crew must have been close to their target. Sonar readings showed several promising targets. If one of them is Titanic, says Spies, “is probably either broken up or partially buried. It is very likely that the remains are mixed with geological features.

A new expedition is scheduled for sometime next summer. Provided the weather doesn’t intervene again, the crew will survey the target area with a magnetometer (which doubles as a metal detector) and with television cameras lowered into the depths. If the ship can be identified, a crew will descend in a research submarine to take a closer look.

Jack Grimm, the Texas oilman who financed the expedition, plans to recoup his $1 million investment with proceeds from a book and film and television documentaries about the adventure. As for scientists, they can win even if Titanic eludes them once again. For one thing, Lamont-Doherty is keeping all the new sonar equipment it helped design. On the other hand, the searchers found a scarred and broken seabed; they hope it will yield valuable new information about geological activity at the boundary where the continental shelf descends into the deep ocean. Unfortunately, it’s the very uneven ocean floor that makes it so hard to find Titanic.

Read more: No one knows how many shipwrecks exist, so how do we find them?

When did they find Titanic?

The crews spent another five years returning to shore empty-handed before Titanic was discovered on the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean. On September 1, 1985, the research vessel Nortowing a deep-sea camera with a remote control so-called Argonoticed the first traces of the wreck off the coast of Newfoundland.

But the crew of Norled by oceanographer Robert Ballard, was not officially sets off in pursuit of the famed vessel, even though Ballard has searched for it before. The crew was hired by the US Navy for use Argo to further explore the wreckage of two submarines sunk in the Atlantic Ocean decades ago: the USS A thresher and USS scorpion. accidentally TitanicThe watery grave was between the two sunken submarines.

This was during the Cold War, so the search mission remained top secret, but news of TitanicThe discovery of crashed days after it was found. Ballard tried to keep the ship’s coordinates a secret to prevent scavengers from trying to dig up its remains. But the site emerged, attracting both research groups and wealthy tourists, some of whom dived and brought artifacts back to the surface. That was until the wreck came under UNESCO treaty protection in 2012 – a century to the day after the ship sank.

Read more: Preserved shipwreck discovered in Shipwreck Alley after 120 years

Where is Titanic Now?

Today, most of the Titanic still remains at the bottom of the ocean. But what was lost and found may soon be lost again, thanks to an abundant strain of saltwater-dwelling bacteria that is eating away at the ship’s skeleton. When the ship was first discovered, its remains were amazingly well preserved.

In 2004, almost 20 years after the wreck’s ruins were discovered, Ballard returned to the site. The team performed a close-up assessment of the wreck’s deterioration using stereoscopic still images and high-definition video. Unforgettable footage of their comeback is shown below.

In 2010, researchers identified a bacterial culprit, Halomonas titanicae, absorbing the rusty metal. Scientists predict that the last of Titanic will disintegrate in the next few decades—leaving us earthlings with only piles of recovered trinkets and the stories we tell of the iconic tragedy.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the remains of USS Thresher and USS Scorpion were discovered before 1985. Knorr set out to further investigate the wrecks of the two ships.

Read more: Treasures await you in the famous ancient shipwreck

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