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Judge clears the way for opening up the Titanic

Titanic
The Titanic sank during its maiden voyage in 1912. (Acme Newspictures via Library of Congress)

A federal judge says RMS Titanic Inc. can go forward with its plan to cut into the Titanic shipwreck and try retrieving the Marconi wireless telegraph machine that sent out distress calls 108 years ago.

In an order issued Monday in Norfolk, Va., District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith said RMS Titanic, the court-designated salvage firm for the Titanic, made its case that the radio had enough historic value to justify sending a specially equipped robot into the wreck. The remotely operated submersible would be equipped with tools to cut through the deckhouse if necessary.

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Researchers watch Titanic shipwreck crumble

Titanic wreck
The prow of the Titanic wreck is quickly getting rustier, scientists say. (Atlantic Productions Photo)

Scientists and enthusiasts are due to visit the wreck of the Titanic next summer in a submersible built by Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate – but what will they see?

Based on a newly completed expedition, they’ll see a hulk that’s decomposing almost before their eyes.

That’s the word from members of a deep-ocean exploration team who visited the site, nearly 13,000 feet beneath the surface, during a 10-day expedition in late July and early August.

Team leaders included Caladan Oceanic explorer/pilot Victor Vescovo, Titanic historian Parks Stephenson and Rob McCallum of EYOS Expeditions. With the aid of a technical crew from Triton Submarines, they surveyed the wreck during a series of five dives in the DSSV Limiting Factor, a two-person Triton 36,000/2 submersible.

The exploration team captured 4K video footage of the wreck using cameras that were specially adapted for the bone-chilling, high-pressure environment of the deep. The imagery will be used in a forthcoming documentary film by Atlantic Productions – and transformed into photorealistic 3-D models of the Titanic site for augmented-reality and virtual-reality platforms.

Stephenson said he was shocked to see how the wreck has deteriorated. Salt corrosion, metal-eating bacteria and deep currents are contributing to the decay.

“The most shocking area of deterioration was the starboard side of the officer’s quarters, where the captain’s quarters were,” he said in a news release. “The captain’s bathtub is a favorite image among the Titanic enthusiasts, and that’s now gone. That whole deck house on that side is collapsing, taking with it the staterooms, and the deterioration is going to continue advancing.”

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Jerusalem dig finds traces of biblical conquest

Shimon Gibson
Shimon Gibson, co-director of the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, sets the scene at the Jerusalem site. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

One month after offering up archaeological evidence to back up a contested claim about the First Crusade, researchers say they’ve found traces of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in a deeper layer of their excavation on Mount Zion.

The newly reported find demonstrates how the site, just outside the walls of the Old City’s Tower of David citadel, serves as a “time machine” documenting the twists and turns of Jerusalem’s history.

The Babylonian conquest, which dates to the year 587 or 586 BCE, is one of the major moments of Jewish history. As detailed in the biblical Book of Kings, the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem for months, eventually broke through the walls and burned “all the houses of Jerusalem,” including Solomon’s Temple.

After the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish people were sent into exile – an event that Jews commemorate with mourning and fasting every year on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. This year’s Tisha B’Av observance began at sundown tonight.

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Shipwreck-hunting project wins TV spotlight

Vulcan's Rob Kraft
Rob Kraft is Vulcan’s director of subsea operations. (Image © 2019 Navigea Ltd. / R/V Petrel)

The voyages of the R/V Petrel, funded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, are the focus of a National Geographic documentary premiering on Aug. 12 – and as a prelude to the show, the leader of the Petrel team is talking about what it takes to find historic shipwrecks in the Pacific.

“Our missions have led to discovery of over 30 historically significant shipwrecks, diverse ecosystems and encounters with rare marine species,” Rob Kraft, Vulcan’s director of subsea operations, says in an online Q&A. “The environment we operate in brings inherent dangers, challenges and risk that most people will never experience.”

That all sounds like a natural fit for the next episode of “Drain the Oceans,” a National Geographic series that delves into what we’d find beneath the waves if the world’s oceans could magically disappear.

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Archaeologists resolve a Crusader controversy

Shimon Gibson
Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist working in Jerusalem as a professor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, points out the ruins of a road from the Byzantine era that ran through the heart of the city. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle reports on a significant archaeological find during his Middle East science tour. 

JERUSALEM — Exactly 920 years after Jerusalem fell in the First Crusade, archaeologists say they’ve found the first on-the-ground evidence to back up a key twist in the Crusaders’ account of their victory.

A glittering piece of Fatimid Muslim jewelry plays a role in the find. And so does a later chapter in Jerusalem’s history that has overtones of “Game of Thrones.”

The discovery serves as another coup for the Mount Zion Archaeological Project, a decades-long excavation effort that’s being conducted by an international team under the aegis of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. UNC Charlotte’s many-layered dig takes up a wedge of land sandwiched between Jerusalem’s Tower of David citadel and a busy Israeli thoroughfare.

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Minecraft helps revive lost monuments virtually

Mosul mosque
Islamic State forces blew up the Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, as they withdrew from the city in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of History Blocks)

Can a video game reclaim centuries’ worth of lost cultural heritage in the Middle East? Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition is being used to do just that, in league with UNESCO and schools around the world.

History Blocks takes advantage of the educationally oriented Minecraft platform to build virtual versions of ancient monuments — starting with sites that were destroyed by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The project was conceived and developed by Agencia Africa in Brazil, and put to its first test this February at Escola Bosque, a private school in São Paulo.

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OceanGate gears up for Titanic dive rehearsals

OceanGate Titan sub
OceanGate’s Titan submersible is designed to withstand pressures at Titanic depths. (OceanGate Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate is heading back down to the Bahamas next week to practice deep-sea dives of Titanic proportions with its next-generation Titan submersible — and this time, team members are bringing along paying customers.

About 10 mission specialists wll accompany OceanGate’s team for rehearsals that will involve sending Titan down to depths of nearly 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). That’s as far down as the famous wreck of the Titanic lies in the North Atlantic.

This month’s rehearsal follows up on a series of deep dives done by OceanGate last year. The plan doesn’t call for mission specialists to climb into the submersible this time around, OceanGate marketing manager Dana Hall told GeekWire. Instead, they’ll be on the R/V Angari, the expedition’s tracking and communications ship.

The goal is to familiarize at least some of OceanGate’s customers with the duties they’ll be performing when Titan and its support vessels head up to Newfoundland for 10-day voyages to the Titanic site that are due to start in June.

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Paul Allen’s research ship finds the USS Wasp

USS Wasp gun
One of the USS Wasp’s five-inch guns looms out of the murk of the Coral Sea. (Photo courtesy of Paul Allen’s R/V Petrel / Navigea)

The USS Wasp, an aircraft carrier that saw service during World War II from Iceland to Guadalcanal, has been located lying 14,000 feet deep in the Coral Sea 77 years after its sinking.

It’s the latest find chalked up to the R/V Petrel, a research vessel whose expeditions have been funded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his estate.

The Petrel has been plying the waters of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding seas for years, to document the resting places of historic shipwrecks and conduct scientific studies. The Wasp was found on Jan. 14 with the aid of a sonar-equipped autonomous underwater vehicle and a camera-equipped remotely operated vehicle.

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Wreck of the USS Strong found after 76 years

USS Strong propeller
A video view shows the propeller from the USS Strong at the bottom of the Kula Gulf. (Photo courtesy of Navigea / R/V Petrel / Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)

The USS Strong put in less than a year of service at sea, but the destroyer and its crew nevertheless earned a place of honor in the U.S. Navy’s history of World War II. Now the Strong’s legacy is once again in the spotlight, thanks to the shipwreck’s discovery by the research vessel Petrel.

The R/V Petrel’s expedition team, supported by the late Seattle billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., used sonar and underwater imaging to find the wreckage on Feb. 6, lying 1,000 feet deep on the floor of the Kula Gulf, north of New Georgia in the Solomon Sea. The latest find adds to the Petrel’s long list of World War II shipwreck discoveries, including the USS Indianapolis, the USS Lexington, the USS Juneau, the USS Helena and the USS Hornet.

“With each ship we find and survey, it is the human stories that make each one personal,” Robert Kraft, expedition lead and director of subsea operations for the Petrel, said today in a news release. “We need to remember and honor our history and its heroes, living and dead. We need to bring their spirit to life and be grateful every day for the sacrifices made by so many on our behalf.”

The Strong was launched and commissioned in 1942, and during the first half of 1943, it conducted anti-submarine patrols and supported naval mining operations around the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides and Guadalcanal in the Pacific.

Its final battle came on July 5, 1943, when the Strong was sent to shell Japanese shore installations to provide cover for the landing of American forces at Rice Anchorage, on the coast of New Georgia.

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Paul Allen’s research vessel finds the USS Hornet

Hornet gun
This 5-inch gun is part of the wreckage from the USS Hornet. (Photo courtesy of Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)

Chalk up another historic shipwreck discovery for the Petrel, the research vessel funded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen: This time it’s the USS Hornet, the World War II aircraft carrier that was sunk by Japanese forces in 1942.

The Hornet is best-known as the launching point for the Doolittle Raid, the first airborne attack on the Japanese home islands after Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war. Led by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the raid in April 1942 provided a boost to American morale and put Japan on alert about our covert air capabilities.

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