THERE’S NO QUESTION that the Titanic, which sank on April 15, 1912, is the most famous shipwreck of all time. Since scientists discovered the wreckage in 1985, researchers have been scouring it in hopes of learning as much as they can about the luxury liner and its sinking.
But there’s some issues that come along with trying to study a shipwreck. Namely, they’re usually underwater. It’s incredibly obvious—so much so that it may seem like we certainly should have found a work-around long before now—but it’s not an easy fix.
Water—especially murky water 12,500 feet down at the bottom of the ocean—disrupts light. It distorts images and makes everything in the area of the Titanic wreck incredibly dark. While people have been able to photograph, video, and illuminate sections in substantial detail, there hasn’t been a way to see the whole thing in high definition all at once.
Until now. Researchers have just released the first full-sized digital scan of the Titanic, allowing us to see the entirety of the ship all at once as if there were no water in the way at all—or, at least, the part not buried in deep-sea mud. Known as a “digital twin,” it’s a full 3D rendering encompassing the inside and outside of the vessel, and has captured many aspects of the wreck in never-before-seen detail.
Parks Stephenson, a Titanic analyst, said in a BBC News article that the model is “one of the first major steps to driving the Titanic story towards evidence-based research—and not speculation.”
Two remote-controlled craft named Romeo and Juliet (not, sadly, Jack and Rose) spent over 200 hours scanning every inch of the wreck, encompassing both halves of the now-split ship and the surrounding debris field. They took over 700,000 images that were eventually combined to create this revolutionary 3D model.
The scan was made possible by a partnership between deep-sea mapping company Magellan Ltd. and Atlantic Productions, who are making a documentary on the Titanic-scanning process. According to an Atlantic Productions press release, through the use of technology five years in the making, “the exact condition of wreck is revealed and the entire historic site is mapped providing a level of detail never before seen.”
A never-before-seen level of detail is not hyperbole here, either. The scan is high-def enough that you can see things like individual shoes, unopened bottles of champagne, and the serial number on a propellor.
In addition to providing a clear view for researchers to study the wreck, the digital twin preserves a copy of the site in its current form. Underwater environments are very good at breaking down shipwrecks, and while we still have time with the Titanic, it won’t be around forever. At the very least, some of the information it currently holds will be lost to time. But now, even if those details are gone from the real world, they’ll be safe in the scan for future study.
The Titanic continues to be a gold mine of data for historians, and this scan is the next step in opening up even more wells of information and understanding.
Associate News Editor
Jackie is a writer and editor from Pennsylvania. She’s especially fond of writing about space and physics, and loves sharing the weird wonders of the universe with anyone who wants to listen. She is supervised in her home office by her two cats.