When did the Northern Lights Appear?


A

Aaron_2016

Guest
The survivors saw the Northern Lights appear after the Titanic sank, but before the Carpathia arrived. I have met former sailors who have seen the Northern Lights in the North Atlantic and they said it was so bright it was almost like daylight. Survivors said it was just like a "search light" and how it was very bright and spread across in a fantail with streamers going upwards into the sky.

Does anyone know roughly what time they appeared and for how long, and if the other ships nearby would have seen them? Would they have to record it in their logbooks and would the brightness affect their ability to navigate using the stars?

[Moderator's note: Three very large illustrations of the Northern Lights have been removed from this message to make the discussion easier to follow. MAB}
.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
5,045
315
353
Here's something from an Icelandic resort where people may see the northern lights.

Weak Northern Lights have a brightness comparable to that of the Milky Way, our galaxy, which can be seen as a diffuse band of light across the sky on clear winter nights.
Medium-strength Northern Lights are brighter than most stars. Thus, during a medium-strength Aurora Borealis we cannot see stars that lie behind the Aurora in the line of sight.
Strong Northern Lights are comparable to light from the moon. The Northern Lights are then
much stronger than starlight and 100 to 1000 times stronger than the weakest observable light.


So they are very variable and could just conceivably affect navigation, but celestial navigation by stars can only be done just after sunset and just before sunrise. In Titanic's case they were of no importance.
 
May 3, 2005
2,599
278
278
My question was that I have never seen any mention of Northern Lights any records of testimonies by survivors members of ship's crews and officers.
 
May 3, 2005
2,599
278
278
Timed out while trying to add this. All I have ever read was how clear the night was and how bright the stars were , but no mention of Northern Lights.
My apologies if I seem to be a bit dubious.
It would seem this would have been included in the movies, too if it was so.
 
Last edited:

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
5,045
315
353
Lawrence Beesley mentions them near the start of Chapter V of his book. He saw them from a lifeboat, after Titanic sank. There is a mention in the British inquiry and maybe elsewhere. It's the sort of thing that might be in personal accounts, rather than in formal evidence.

I should imagine the the northern lights wouldn't be very spectacular, seen from 42°N. I've seen the southern aurora from around 34°S and it was just a red glow, with yellow rays, low on the horizon.
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
5,859
1,024
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
It all depends very much on the storm activity on the surface of the sun. I've seen them occasionally on the New York run and of course very often from my home in Scotland. On occasion, they can be seen well down the eastern seaboard of the USA.

Sighting of the Aurora, north or south of the equator would not normally be recorded in the log book since it has no effect on the ship or her ability to perform. Star sights are taken at dawn and dusk so the sky would be getting lighter at that time. I can't remember it ever having an effect on the use of the sextant as when taking a sight of the Pole Star.
 
A

Aaron_2016

Guest
Thanks. This is the first time I have seen any mention of this.

Testimony from the official Titanic Inquiry:


Mr. J. Johnson

Q - Were you picked up before it was light?
A - "No, it was just dawn. We thought we saw an illumination of a boat coming. It was the Northern lights."


Major Peuchen's answers to two questions were:

".....The Northern lights appeared where this light we had been looking at in that direction appeared shortly afterwards."

".....The Northern lights were very strong that night."


Mr. Buley was asked about the other steamer that could be seen:

".....She was stationary there for about three hours, I think, off our port, there, and when we were in the boat we all made for her, and she went by us. The Northern lights are just like a searchlight, but she disappeared."


.
 
May 3, 2005
2,599
278
278
Thanks very much Aaron. I had overlooked that part of the testimonies. It does seem the movie makers missed an opportunity for some special effects.
 
A

Aaron_2016

Guest
Thanks very much Aaron. I had overlooked that part of the testimonies. It does seem the movie makers missed an opportunity for some special effects.

After the Titanic sinks and Rose is looking up at the stars and singing "Come Josephine in my Flying Machine, going up she goes, up she goes." I was hoping to see the Northern lights to appear overhead perhaps to symbolise the souls leaving the thousand+ bodies all around her.


.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

B-rad

Member
Jul 1, 2015
589
199
108
39
Tacoma, WA
Bisset, aboard the Carpathia, stated:

Though the night was cloudless, and stars were shining, the peculiar atmospheric conditions of visibility intensified as we approached the icefield with the greenish beams of the Aurora Borealis shimmering and confusing the horizon ahead of us to the northwards.

Tramps and Ladies Pg. 298

First class passenger Charles Stengel would tell the US committee on day 11, that his thoughts of a light seen in the distance, while in the lifeboat, was, “... a sort of northern light, reflecting on an iceberg. That was my impression.”

It is apparent from these statements that the northern lights witness did not become noticeable until after the Titanic sunk and while the boats were in the water, and before dawn broke. I'm guessing anywhere between 2:30ish & 4:00.
 

Doug Criner

Member
Dec 2, 2009
447
66
133
USA
I sailed from Iceland, which touches the Arctic Circle, northeast for a couple of days, on our way toward Svalbard. As I recall, the Northern Lights tended to dance around in the sky. Hard to mistake them for another ship's lights. And, has been stated, the Northern Lights would be unlikely to interfere with star sights at dusk and dawn.
 

B-rad

Member
Jul 1, 2015
589
199
108
39
Tacoma, WA
There is no way the N.lights could be mistaken for a ships light. Way to high, etc.... I agree,the N.lights do not interfer with all starlight only those in the immediate area, unless u get extreme pole then they light up the sky almost like day. (Sometimes)
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
5,859
1,024
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Absolutely, Brad. Bisset or his biographer wrote the most incredible romanticised nonsense. I think it must have been his biographer who wrote the bit about the Aurora and the ice since Bisset would have known perfectly well the difference between pack ice and an ice field. He also knew that the former was invisible until daylight that morning.

Major Peuchin was, to me, a bit inconsistent. He stated in so many words that those in his boat were fools for chasing an imaginary light. However his outstdanding gaff was:

" we started right off from the port side of the boat directly straight off from her about amidship, on the port side, right directly north, I think it would be, because the northern lights appeared where this light we had been looking at in that direction appeared shortly afterwards."

Think about it. If a boat moves out at right angles from the port side of a ship and heads north then that ship is heading East, not West or North. Did the Northern Lights move south? :eek: What 'light' had they been looking at? Peuchin also stated:

"I did not think, from my knowledge of yachting, that it was a boat light. I think it was one of those reflected lights. The northern lights were very strong that night".
 
A

Aaron_2016

Guest
Lawrence Beesley wrote:

"We rowed slowly forward or what we thought was forward, for it was in the direction the Titanic's bows were pointing before she sank. I see now that we must have been pointing northwest, for we presently saw the Northern Lights on the starboard, and again, when the Carpathia came up from the south, we saw her from behind us on the southeast, and turned our boat around to get to her."

"Towards 3am we saw a faint glow in the sky ahead on the starboard quarter, the first gleams, we thought, of the coming dawn. We were not certain of the time and were eager perhaps to accept too readily any relief from darkness, only too glad to be able to look each other in the face and see who were our companions in good fortune; to be free from the hazard of lying in a steamer's track, invisible in the darkness, but we were doomed to disappointment: the soft light increased for a time, and died away a little; glowed again, and then remained stationary for some minutes! "The Northern Lights"! It suddenly came to me, and so it was: presently the light arched fanwise across the northern sky, with faint streamers reaching towards the Pole-star. I had seen them of about the same intensity in England some years ago and knew them again. A sigh of disappointment went through the boat as we realized that the day was not yet."


.
 
Mar 22, 2003
6,132
1,475
383
Chicago, IL, USA
www.titanicology.com
Towards 3am we saw a faint glow in the sky ahead on the starboard quarter,
One thing about Beesley, he was not well conversant with maritime phraseology. Ahead on the starboard would be the starboard bow, not starboard quarter.

I was in Iceland several times in the 1990s at the NATO base at Keflavik. The Northern lights are a spectacular sight to say the least. I wish I could find that photograph I took at the time. That night they glowed with an eerie greenish neon color covering a could part of the northern sky, noticeably changing shape and intensity over the course of a few minutes time.
 

Similar threads

Similar threads