Height of rockets seen from the Californian


Paul Lee

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I have often wondered how the rockets as seen by Stone were described as being low down on the horizon, rising to no more than half the height of "the other ship's" mast head light. If it was the Titanic, was there some refractive layer in the atmosphere?

Also, does anyone know if the Carpathia fired her company signals when she was firing rockets? The Californian would surely have seen blue lights that rose to 150 feet above the sea level?
 
Aug 14, 2003
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The explanation for this has always, to me, seemed obvious. If, as I believe, there was a ship between Californian and Titanic and Titanic was, as I think, below the horizon, the rockets being fired by Titanic were at such a height as to just be visible from the decks of Californian at the mast height of the mystery ship. This would give the illusion that rockets fired by the mystery ship were not as high as those reported to have been set off by Titanic, This would also explain why no reports were heard by the officers on board Californian. This adds to the credence that the ship seen by both Titanic and Californian was another ship entirely. However, rockets seen at sea (of whatever height) should have been investigated and an awakening of the wireless officer would have ascertained the true nature of the emergency.
 

Paul Lee

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Hi Michael
(Welcome to E-T btw!)

I once thought as you did, but many things changed by mind, such as Leslie Reade's book. Anyway, Gibson, when observing the "other ship" with binoculars saw a flash on deck and the rocket go into the sky, meaning that the other ship fired it.
Stone, standing next to him, but without the benefit of binoculars said that he thought the rockets came from a greater distance past the ship, but could not understand why, when the other ship moved, the bearings of the rockets did too.
Donkeyman Gill reported that he saw rockets without seeing the ship firing them, but then his range to the horizon was less than that of Gibson and Stone as he was standing several decks below them. He makes no mention of seeing the other ship at all, least of all her masthead light.

If it wasn't for this, I would say that the Californian 100% saw the Titanic and vice versa. At the moment, I'm 90% sure!
happy.gif
 
May 12, 2002
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Hi Paul,

Eyewitnesses can be wrong! I doubt anyone could concoct a scenario that would fit every single report of what happened that night and remain plausible. And if they did, we'd have a lot less to discuss here :) I think that best that anyone can do is take the balance of the evidence.

Cheers

Paul
 

Paul Lee

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Hi Paul,
Yes, you're right of course! Its just interesting to try and reconcile the different statements. In this case, there seems to be a bit of a deadlock though....

Cheers
(Another) Paul
 

Jeremy Lee

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>>If it wasn't for this, I would say that the Californian 100% saw the Titanic and vice versa. At the moment, I'm 90% sure!<<

But which other ship that night would be firing rockets in the vicinity?

They should ask Stone and Gibson to identify the type of rocket fired, and is they confirm they saw the one that were supplied on the Titanic. then we could be 100% sure.
 
A

Alicia Coors

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The existence of a "Mystery Ship" has never been credible to me, for the simple reason that: Californian saw it heave to at the exact time when Titanic hit the ice, and "steam away" (directly away!) at the moment Titanic sank. It remained on a line between the two ships, so its bearing from them was identical to that of Titanic and Californian from each other.

I suppose coincidence of this scale is imaginable, but I like Ockham's explanation better.

p.s. I don't think it has been suggested that S.S. Enigma was firing the rockets. The premise is that they were coming from Titanic, but appeared "over" the former. But this only works if you disregard the flash observed on deck (see above). Unless maybe someone lit 8 flash crackers at the exact instants when... ;-)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Eyewitnesses can be wrong!<<

Yes they can be, and IMO, that may be why they people involved misread the situation as badly as they did. I've waded through the transcripts, listened to all sides an still do. What struck me above all else was the lack of any sense of real urgency among the Californian's watch as they saw all this go down.

In retrospect, we can safely say that they should have been more impressed with what they saw then apparantly they were. The problem is that they weren't.

Were they blind, stupid, scared, or just plain snookered by deceptive conditions that night? If so, they weren't the only ones. Boxhall speaks to a ship that was moving when we know that the Californian never moved.
15400. Did you watch the lights of this steamer while you were sending the rockets up? - Yes.

15401. Did they seem to be stationary? - I was paying most of my attention to this steamer then, and she was approaching us; and then I saw her sidelights. I saw her green light and the red. She was end-on to us. Later I saw her red light. This is all with the aid of a pair of glasses up to now. Afterwards I saw the ship's red light with my naked eye, and the two masthead lights. The only description of the ship that I could give is that she was, or I judged her to be, a four-masted steamer.

15402. Why did you judge that? - By the position of her masthead lights; they were close together.

15403. Did the ship make any sort of answer, as far as you could see, to your rockets? - I did not see it. Some people say she did, and others say she did not. There were a lot of men on the bridge. I had a Quartermaster with me, and the Captain was standing by, at different times, watching this steamer.

15404. Do you mean you heard someone say she was answering your signals? - Yes, I did, and then she got close enough, and I Morsed to her - used our Morse lamp.

15405. You began Morsing to her? - Yes.

15406. When people said to you that your signals were being answered, did they say how they were being answered? - I think I heard somebody say that she showed a light.

15407. Do you mean that she would be using a Morse lamp? - Quite probably.

15408. Then you thought she was near enough to Morse her from the "Titanic"? - Yes, I do think so; I think so yet.

15409. (The Commissioner.) What distance did you suppose her to be away? - I judged her to be between 5 and 6 miles when I Morsed to her, and then she turned round - she was turning very, very slowly - until at last I only saw her stern light, and that was just before I went away in the boat.
Optical illusions perhaps or the Californian swinging with the current? An unknown player in between the two? I've seen arguements made for all those possbilities. My point being that if we can't agree on it after all these years and having all the testimony available to see the big picture, one has to wonder if all the players at the time could do any better when they didn't have all the pieces to the puzzle.
 

Paul Lee

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Just got this response from a query on sci.optics about mirages affecting the visual height that some objects reach:

Yes, bending [of light] can occur in either direction. Refractive index of air is
temperature dependent, so there is almost always some bending. In
normal lapse rate, bending is one one direction. In temperature
inversions (temp increasing with altitude) it bends the other way. If
light beam enters an inversion from above, it is bent one way in upper
air, then is bent back again in inversion.
 

Dave Gittins

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I've seen so many weird refraction effects at sea that I don't like to drag them into the Titanic tale. They can be used to explain away whatever you like. You can turn lights on and off as you please, in support of whatever tale you are pushing and you can see them at any distance you like. You can even make them change colour.

For instance, in 1993, on a very warm night, I observed and identified by timing, two lighthouses, one of them at something like double its normal range. This was at about 10-00 p.m. After an hour or so, they vanished. Both returned later when I reached their normal range.

Binoculars add to the fun. A few years ago, I observed a 16 mile light at about double its normal range. With 7 x 50 binoculars I timed two small harbour lights close to it, their range about 8 miles, at the same distance.

I once saw a curious phenomenon in which a green light appeared on the horizon, only to turn white as the ship showing it drew nearer. The effect lasted for quite a time and suggested the starboard light of a sailing vessel.

In my opinion, the events of 14/15 April 1912 can be explained without recourse to abnormal refraction. I admit I have sometimes wondered about the observations of Stone and Gibson. The "big side out of the water" suggests to me a bit of distortion of the very small image by refraction of an object right on the horizon.

As Michael has noted, it's all a bit late now, but I'd caution against bringing refraction into it. When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.
 

Paul Lee

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It just puzzles me why rockets that should go up 800 feet or so, only seem to go up a short distance!

Cheers

Paul

 

Paul Lee

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Hi Michael,
Yes, but the other ship's lights would also be subject to the curvature, either being hull down, or just barely visible.

Paul

 

Tim Brandsoy

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Feb 19, 2002
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Couldn't the rockets have been shot 800 feet virtually horizontal, perhaps in the direction of the Californian?

................................[-----800'-------]
................................----------------->
..........................\..T../
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^\..../^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
........................... V
 

Dave Gittins

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Tim, Titanic didn't fire rockets as usually understood. She fired socket signals, which were much like the things used for entertainment today. They were in effect little mortar shells and were fired almost vertically up. The Board of Trade prescibed that the mortar tubes be inclined 20° from the vertical, to make sure the shells went clear of the ship.

The height of the shells varied between 600 and 800 feet, as per Board of Trade specifications.
 

Tim Brandsoy

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My thought was it was a mistake. 20 degrees from horizontal instead of vertical? I was trying to think of a reason why the Californian saw the rockets/flares/socket signals/pyrotechnics at such a low angle.

If it was Titanic (I'm 95% sure), and it was seen at a low height (35% sure), and there wasn't some sort of a refractive light playing visual tricks (0% opinion on that! LOL) there has to be a valid reason why it appeared the way it did.

Maybe we'll never know. But 600-800 feet is a lot more than "rising to no more than half the height of "the other ship's" mast head light." What did the witnesses on Titanic see?
 

Paul Lee

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The eyewitnesses on the Titanic reported the rockets clearing the rigging. ISTR Beesley saying this, more or less!

Best wishes

Paul

 

Tim Brandsoy

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In the Testimony Stone and Aspinal refered to "rocket(s)" 42 times.

Lightoller did refer to them as distress signals.
14151. Distress signals? - Yes. I just mention that, not to confuse them with the old rockets, which leave a trail of fire.

14179. What sort of height would you judge? - They ranged from a matter of 50 or 60 feet to perhaps 200 or 300 feet.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>But 600-800 feet is a lot more than "rising to no more than half the height of "the other ship's" mast head light." <<

Yes it is, but even if every one of these signals went up to the full 600 to 800 feet, remember that at a distance of 10-12 miles, they would still appear to that distant observer to be fairly low against the horizon. One doesn't have to do experiments with rockets or socket signals to see that. Just go out to sea and move offshore of any city. At that distance, even the tallest buildings don't look that high.
 

Paul Lee

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Hi Michael,
Yes, but relative to the height of the masthead light, they would seem to go up quite a distance. On their own, I agree, they would seem to be very low down on the horizon, but when compared to the other ship's lights, they didn't go up very high at all!

Best wishes

Paul

 

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