Finding the Titanic

Finding the Titanic

How did science help explorers find the Titanic?

Imagine looking for something tiny, like an earring, on a football pitch in total darkness. That's a bit like looking for the wreck of the Titanic in the middle of the huge Atlantic Ocean.

People had been searching for the Titanic since it sank in 1912. It was the most famous ship of all time and explorers were desperate to find it.

Why was the Titanic so famous? It was the biggest ship in the world. When it was built, people said it was unsinkable. On its first voyage, the Titanic sailed for just 4 days before it hit an iceberg and sank. Over 1,500 people lost their lives.

Scientists and explorers competed to find the Titanic. One scientist even wanted to take his pet monkey called Titan on a mission to find the wreck! It took over 70 years for explorers to find the Titanic.

Finding the Titanic

Robert Ballard was a deep sea explorer with a dream to find the Titanic. The US Navy asked Ballard to find and photograph two sunken submarines in the Atlantic on a secret mission.

Bob Ballard

Robert Ballard, ocean explorer

When Ballard looked for the submarines he realised a crucial piece of information. When a vessel sinks, the wreckage is carried by undersea currents. This leaves a trail of debris like the tail of a comet.

In 1985, Ballard and his team were sent by the US Navy to photograph the submarines again. This time, the US Navy let them search for the Titanic afterwards.


Titanic wreck

The traditional way to search for wrecks was to use sonar. Sonar uses sound to detect objects underwater. As well as using sonar, Ballard searched for the Titanic's trail of debris. He estimated that it would be over 2km long. Ballard had just 12 days to find it, in an area of ocean five times the size of New York.

To find the trail, Ballard used a deep-sea vehicle called Argo. Argo had lots of cameras and was towed behind the ship. Argo floated just above the sea floor, 2.5 miles down in the cold, dark Atlantic.

After days of searching, Ballard found the trail. He knew the currents would take the trail northwards. Ballard followed the trail and sailed right up to the Titanic!

A year later, Ballard came back to the wreck of the Titanic. He used a small submarine to travel to the wreck and take pictures. It took two and a half hours for Ballard and his team to reach the wreck. They were the first people to visit the wreck of the Titanic.

James Cameron, director of the film Titanic, recently became the first person to reach to travel solo to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the oceans, 11km beneath the surface. With deep-sea science advancing even further, where will we go next?