The story of the RMS Titanic has been the subject of movies, books, and public fascination for more than 100 years.
The ship, famously considered to be “unsinkable,” struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912, while crossing the Atlantic. More than 1,500 people perished during the disaster.
There is a limit to what scientists and historians know about the disaster because the shipwreck lies on the seafloor at a depth of 12,500 feet, some 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.
Now, however, scientists and historians are learning a lot more about the famous ship and its sinking.
A full-size digital scan of the Titanic has created its “digital twin,” which provides a 3D view of the shipwreck. Those views come thanks to an ambitious undertaking by deep-sea mapping company Magellan Ltd and Atlantic Productions, which is producing a documentary about the project.
“I have been studying the Titanic for 20 years, but this is a true game changer,” said Parks Stephenson, a Titanic explorer and researcher, according to the Washington Post.
“What we are seeing for the first time is an accurate and true depiction of the entire wreck and debris site,” Stephenson continued. “I’m seeing details that none of us have ever seen before.”
How The Digital Twin Was Created
The basis for the full-size digital scan of the Titanic shipwreck was completed during a 6-week expedition last summer, using deep-sea mapping technology developed by Magellan Ltd.
A specialist ship was positioned 430 miles off the Canadian coast. The researchers then used two submersibles named “Romeo” and “Juliet” to take more than 700,000 images and a high-resolution video from every angle of the shipwreck and debris field over about 200 hours, according to BBC News.
As a result, the researchers were able to map “every millimeter of the wreckage as well as the entire 3-mile debris field,” according to Atlantic Productions.
“The volume of data that we acquired was enormous,” said Richard Parkinson, Magellan’s chief executive, the Washington Post reports. “The results were astonishing.”
Importantly, since the Titanic wreckage became a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) protected heritage site in 2012, the researchers were careful not to disturb it.
“In accordance with tight regulations in place, the wreck was not touched or disturbed,” Atlantic Productions explains. “The entire site was treated with the utmost of respect, which included a flower laying ceremony in memory of those who lost their lives.”
Learning From The Past
The 3D scan captures the entire shipwreck and surrounding debris field in an amazing level of detail. That includes the Titanic’s bow and stern, which are separated by a distance of about 2,600 feet, and the enormous debris field.
In addition to the sheer scope of the wreckage, the scan also shows numerous details, including the serial number on one of the ship’s propellers, BBC News notes. Another detail is a “gaping” hole that offers a view into the space where the Titanic’s grand staircase once stood.
The scan also shows ornate metalwork from the ship, statues, and unopened champagne bottles in the surrounding debris field. Furthermore, personal possessions, including dozens of pairs of shoes, can be seen resting on the seafloor.
To this day, “There are still questions, basic questions, that need to be answered about the ship,” Stephenson told BBC News. The 3D scan, however, is “one of the first major steps to driving the Titanic story toward evidence-based research — and not speculation.”
While the scans of the Titanic will help researchers better understand the ship’s condition so they can document decay, they also help to tell the “story of the human loss,” said Helen Farr, maritime archaeologist at the University of Southampton, according to the Washington Post.
“Living in Southampton, the port city from which RMS Titanic set sail in 1912, I know that these losses have not been forgotten,” Farr said. “More than 720 of the 900 crew were from the city. A generation was lost in this disaster.”
And if you want to see Titanic in person, you can now buy a ticket and descend to the wreck site in a submersible, and explore the remains of the most famous ship in modern history.