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then commented on the lack of definition between the horizon and the sky, making an iceberg hard to spot. Was this due to starlight reflected off the ocean's surface, as Ballard has recently suggested?
Or was this an indication of haze? If so, it makes the ship's rapid pace seem all the more reckless. Lookout Reginald Lee, who was in the crow's-nest with Fleet, testified that Fleet remarked to him on the presence of haze. However, Fleet himself didn't recall the remark. (They did agree on the lack of binoculars in the crow's-nest. A pair had been taken away earlier in the voyage and never returned.) Lightoller emphatically denied the existence of any haze.
Beesley certainly couldn't see any from the lifeboat. "The complete absence of haze," wrote Beesley, "produced a phenomenon I had never seen before: where the sky met the sea the line was as clear and definite as the edge of a knife, so that the water and the air never merged gradually into each other and blended to a softened rounded horizon, but each element was so exclusively separate that where a star came low down in the sky near the clear-cut edge of the water-line, it still lost none of its brilliance." Beesley got carried away at this point: "As the earth revolved and the water edge came up and partially covered the star, as it were, it simply cut the star in two[!], the upper half continuing to sparkle as long as it was not entirely hidden, and throwing a long beam of light along the sea to us."
Controversy still swirls around Smith: Was he a good captain or a bad one? He was aware of danger and may have delayed in "turning the corner" (a point near 42° north, 47° west, where ships normally changed course and headed in to New York) so that the Titanic could get south of an ice field to his west. On the other hand, a jury later found him negligent with regard to the Titanic's speed. Did he keep up speed, simply in accordance with the tradition of not slowing until a hazard was actually seen? Did the presence on the voyage of Ismay, Smith's superior, urge the captain (subtly or otherwise) to make good time? We will never know, but in his last act he did keep with an old tradition: Captain Smith went down with his ship.
Whatever Smith's qualifications, the sky that night only adds to the controversy.
For in between rocket firings, Quartermaster Rowe thought he saw another ship, this time off the starboard bow. Smith trained his glasses on the light and told Rowe it was a planet. Then the captain did something strange: amid all the hubbub, he took the time to hand Rowe his binoculars so that the quartermaster could see for himself! Was Smith neglecting his duties? Or did he want no doubts in Rowe's mind, so that the quartermaster would not waste precious time on a ship that wasn't there? Perhaps he was not sure of his own identification and wanted Rowe to confirm it.
Astronomical evidence can clarify at least part of this mystery. The brightest planet visible at that time was Jupiter, shining at magnitude -2.4 in the southeastern sky. Our calculations show that Jupiter rose at about 9:05 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at the Titanic's assumed position in the North Atlantic. If (as was customary) the ship's clock had been adjusted to the previous astronomical noon, we deduce from its rough course and speed that ship's time must have been very close to 2 hours ahead of EST. Hence Jupiter would have risen at about 11:05 p.m., almost 40 minutes before the iceberg was struck. It would be 8° or higher from midnight on, unlikely to be mistaken for a ship on the ocean horizon.
The only other planet visible in the sky that night was Mars, which, following the same logic, must have been setting on the west-northwest horizon at about 12:53 a.m. -- right in the middle of the drama. While Mars was 30 times dimmer than Jupiter, at magnitude +1.3 it should have been an easy target if the air was as transparent as those in the lifeboats claimed.
Mars would be to starboard if the Titanic's bow pointed west-southwest (the course direction) or more to the south (the way it turned to avoid the iceberg). So Smith and Rowe may have been looking at Mars. But this would put the Californian off the starboard bow rather than the port. On the other hand, if the bow pointed northeast (its orientation on the ocean floor), this would put the Californian off the port -- as claimed by the survivors -- and Jupiter to starboard. The whole issue of the ship's orientation during the sinking is very confusing.
The waves closed over the Titanic at 2:20 a.m., ship's time, and the 882-foot ship plunged to the bottom 13,000 feet below. (continued on page 4)
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