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How Titan’s “catastrophic implosion” happened

The submersible “Titan” that recently garnered much of the world’s attention experienced a “catastrophic implosion,” according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The tragic result, authorities said, is that the five occupants on board are presumed to have died during the implosion.

How does such an implosion happen, and what kind of impact would it have had Titan’s crew? Northeastern Global News reached out to Arun Bansil, university distinguished professor of physics at Northeastern, to provide a basic overview of the physics involved—and the violent consequences associated with it.

The brief conversation has been edited for clarity:

What does it mean for a submarine to have ‘imploded?’ What causes a water submersible to implode? How is it different from an explosion?

Quite simply, an implosion is the opposite of an explosion. In an explosion, the force acts outwards, but in an implosion, the force acts inwards. When a submersible is deep in the ocean it experiences the force on its surface due to water pressure. When this force becomes larger than the force hull can withstand, the vessel implodes violently.

Officials overseeing the search for the submarine said the discovery of debris from the watercraft is consistent with a ‘catastrophic implosion.’ What would such an event have meant for the five occupants?

Implosions like explosions are very violent. As the hull breaks apart under the huge external pressure, a large amount of energy is released, and the five occupants would have died instantly. The occupants would not have experienced pain or realized what hit them.

Can you briefly explain, if you can, the engineering behind how submarines are able to navigate such crushing depths in the first place—and why Titan was presumably unable to?

The key is the design of the hull that protects the vessel against the large external water pressure that is trying to crush the hull. Much of the existing technology is based on steel, titanium and aluminum. The performance of these materials under extreme stress is well understood.

However, the Titan’s hull had an experimental design. It used mostly carbon fibers, which have the advantage of being lighter than titanium or steel, so Titan could have more space for passengers. The properties of carbon fibers for deep sea applications are, however, not that well understood. It can crack and break suddenly.

Also, Titan had previously gone for deep sea dives a few times, which would have contributed to the fatigue of the hull to make the hull more prone to catastrophic failure.

49 COMMENTS

John Rad | July 3, 2023 at 4:31 am | Reply

There is no new information, and very little Physics information and a lot of speculation in this article.

Paul Dodd | July 3, 2023 at 6:24 am | Reply

Agreed. It doesn’t even give the name of the physicist.

Antonio Bragança Martins | July 3, 2023 at 8:05 pm | Reply

It was a violation of a simple concept: all kinds of fibers (glass, carbon, kevlar) resist traction, not compression. Simple this way! On any pressure vessels made of any fiber, when the inner pressure is bigger than the outside pressure the fiber is under traction (for this reason they are suitable for use in pressure cylinders), but when the outside pressure is bigger than the inner pressure, the fiber is under compression (for this reason if you put the same pressure outside of any those cylinders they crack!). Anybody can check this with a simple experiment: get a dive fiber cylinder and try making a inverse hydrostatic test, from outside to inside, using the same differential pressure! Boommm! This is so basic but I didn’t see any engineer speaking about it!

John | July 4, 2023 at 1:57 am | Reply

You are absolutely right.

Basic structural and materials engineering principles…

answer | July 4, 2023 at 1:21 pm |

You’re smart like you ate King Solomon’s s***

Mary P Dante | July 4, 2023 at 9:21 pm |

So give us a way to flag the rude attention seeking cuss tossing inbreds… Tired of the crap in the comments.

Shannon H. | July 8, 2023 at 12:32 pm | Reply

I am not a scientist. I am, however, fascinated by many things in the scientific world. Thank you for your explanation. It’s a shame when arrogance gets in the way of science. Some people are going to believe what they want to believe. It’s frightening that 4 individuals on the Titan trusted their pilot to take care of them.

Smart guy who reads articles | July 4, 2023 at 7:21 pm | Reply

It literally says the physicist’s name in the first paragraph, how about you read before making comments.

Sam J Achy | July 3, 2023 at 8:36 am | Reply

The information that the implosion was not noticed by the crew.amd they did not feal ore notice anything.is fals

A studies clearly explanes that..how come there saying the opposit?

SpencerH | July 3, 2023 at 8:45 am | Reply

Literate much?

Donna | July 3, 2023 at 11:50 am | Reply

Rude.

Terzula | July 4, 2023 at 7:36 am |

First day on the internet?

Tucky | July 4, 2023 at 12:49 pm | Reply

Its a grave. Stay away and leave it alone. Both vessels were engineered to fail. All these factors should prevent any more humans from going down there.

Jay | July 4, 2023 at 1:53 pm | Reply

LMAO

D.Perez | July 8, 2023 at 9:09 pm | Reply

So true.

Dumbass who reads. | July 6, 2023 at 8:33 pm | Reply

Actually it’s the first paragraph.

Paul Dodd | July 3, 2023 at 6:22 am | Reply

It’s a shame that the SciTechDaily newsletter mainly consists of articles which were previously published, basically spamming the reader. I would prefer only new articles, please! This would also emit less CO2.

Paul Dodd | July 3, 2023 at 6:25 am | Reply

Perhaps a SciTechWeekly newsletter with only new articles?

Paulyuk6 | July 3, 2023 at 7:04 am | Reply

And why does a button appear each time I open an article, telling me to click it to read the rest of the article? why not just display the full article right away?

Jojo | July 3, 2023 at 11:35 am | Reply

I’m guessing this button is some sort of attempt to block bots that scrape content.

Leon Kotze | July 3, 2023 at 8:21 am | Reply

This article explained nothing new. Quite disappointing and a wasted opportunity.

Mike B | July 3, 2023 at 9:27 am | Reply

The thing making you click to read the rest of the article is the owners way to know which articles are actually generating interest to be read. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also use any high numbers of reads as a way to show advertisers that their site generates active attention and engagement, meaning eyeballs on ads.

jeannettereed378@gmail.com | July 5, 2023 at 3:07 pm | Reply

That was the Expanded version? Ppsc or psi? So much was not covered, it leaves your ‘physicist scandalous revealed.

Stan | July 3, 2023 at 9:33 am | Reply

My semi-informed speculation: the human body would be compressed instantaneously. This would heat bodily tissues to boiling and liquify everything. No flesh left and probably no bones either. There would be no pain. But, if the hull made ‘groaning’ sounds first, there would be time for panic; perhaps appreciate time (since apparently they were trying to abort).

Hassan | July 4, 2023 at 8:02 am | Reply

“No pain”? Sounds like execution for those suffering from a rare disease….

Shari D. C.S.T. (Ret’d) | July 7, 2023 at 11:26 am | Reply

The speed of the implosion force would exceed the speed of the nerve impulses traveling to the brain. Quick and painless.

Basically, not enough time for pain impulses to travel, and since the brain itself is such a high percentage composition of water, the brain tissue, (which does not feel pain in and of itself) would cease to exist functionally, and would literally be gone before it could receive, react to, and transmit any pain impulses back to the tissues “feeling” it.

Joe | July 3, 2023 at 9:46 am | Reply

One of the features of carbon fiber is that unlike metal it isn’t subject to fatigue. It is brittle so when it fails it loses all of its integrity.

Metal tends to bend before it breaks so I can imagine a metal vessel crushing like a tin can. Once it loses it’s cylindrical shape the flatter sides have more area for the pressure to act on. The contents are more likely to remain inside.

There has been speculation about how much energy would be involved in such a collapse. Most seem to be exaggerated. My two methods of calculation came up with a little less than 300 degrees Fahrenheit rise on 1000 lbs of material with a specific heat of water.

Dwayne Young | July 8, 2023 at 11:11 am | Reply

The pressure at full depth should have been around 6000psi. Enoigh pressire to crush the voids in your bones. There would be no boiling, quite the opposite. lungs and blood gasses would have been instantaneously super compressed. Very tough way to go, but fast..

Mario | July 3, 2023 at 11:39 am | Reply

What a waste of my time. I think I’ve had enough of scitechdaily.com

Anton Ossa | July 3, 2023 at 11:42 am | Reply

A home simulation of what happened to titan: take an empty soda can and stomp on it. Yes, that is exactly what happened to Titan.

Erin | July 4, 2023 at 8:08 am | Reply

Perfect

Joe | July 4, 2023 at 1:29 pm | Reply

This one was full!

Terzula | July 4, 2023 at 7:39 am | Reply

This article would have been better had a chimpanzee conducted the interview. Unless this was written by a kindergarten student, in which case it was well done.

Brandon smith | July 4, 2023 at 7:55 am | Reply

I farted

Sam | July 4, 2023 at 8:02 am | Reply

Everyone, please do not come back to this ripoff website again.

Murray Foster | July 4, 2023 at 8:19 am | Reply

This is how ChatGPT answers the questions:

What does it mean for a submarine to have ‘imploded?’ What causes a water submersible to implode? How is it different from an explosion?

ChatGPT

When a submarine “implodes,” it means that the external pressure exerted by the water causes the submarine’s hull or structure to collapse inward. Implosion occurs when the pressure outside the vessel is significantly greater than the pressure inside. This can lead to catastrophic failure of the submarine’s integrity.

Several factors can contribute to a submarine’s implosion:

Depth: As a submarine descends to greater depths, the pressure exerted by the surrounding water increases. The hull of the submarine is designed to withstand the pressure difference up to a certain depth. However, if it goes beyond its operational limit, the external pressure can exceed the strength of the hull, resulting in implosion.

Structural Weakness: If there are flaws, defects, or structural weaknesses in the submarine’s hull or pressure hull, the increased pressure at depth can exploit these vulnerabilities, causing the structure to collapse inward.

Maintenance Issues: Neglecting proper maintenance and inspection of the submarine’s hull can lead to weakened areas that are more susceptible to implosion. Corrosion, fatigue, or other structural damage can compromise the integrity of the vessel and increase the risk of implosion.

Accidents: In some cases, a sudden impact or collision can also result in an implosion if it causes significant damage to the submarine’s hull, leading to a loss of structural integrity.

It’s important to note that implosion is different from an explosion. An explosion involves a rapid release of energy, resulting in the outward expansion of gases or materials. In an explosion, the pressure within the vessel exceeds its structural integrity, causing it to rupture and release the energy outward. Conversely, an implosion occurs when the external pressure exceeds the internal pressure, causing the structure to collapse inward.

In summary, a submarine implosion is the collapse of its hull or structure due to the external pressure exceeding its internal pressure. It is a result of the immense forces exerted by the surrounding water at great depths and can lead to the catastrophic failure of the submarine.

Officials overseeing the search for the submersible “Titan” said the discovery of debris from the watercraft is consistent with a ‘catastrophic implosion.’ What would such an event have meant for the five occupants?

ChatGPT

If officials state that the discovery of debris from the submarine “Titan” is consistent with a “catastrophic implosion,” it suggests that the submarine suffered a severe structural failure, leading to its collapse under immense external pressure. In such a scenario, the implications for the five occupants of the submarine would be grave.

A catastrophic implosion would likely result in the complete destruction or severe damage to the submarine, compromising the survival of those inside. The occupants would face multiple dangers:

Rapid Compression: As the submarine collapses inward, the occupants would experience a rapid increase in pressure. This compression can have severe physiological effects, including injuries to the lungs, ears, and other air-filled spaces in their bodies.

Violent Forces: The implosion could generate violent forces within the submarine, causing rapid and unpredictable movements. The occupants would be subjected to intense acceleration and deceleration forces, potentially leading to injuries from impacts with the interior of the submarine.

Lack of Oxygen: If the implosion resulted in a breach of the submarine’s hull or pressure vessel, water would rush in rapidly, displacing the available air and causing a rapid loss of breathable oxygen. This would lead to a significant risk of asphyxiation for the occupants.

Debris and Collateral Damage: The implosion could generate debris from the submarine’s structure or equipment, posing additional risks to the occupants. The debris could cause injuries or further hinder any potential escape attempts.

Given the severity of a catastrophic implosion, the chances of survival for the occupants would be extremely low. It is a tragic outcome, and immediate rescue efforts would be challenging, especially considering the depths at which submarines operate and the complexities involved in locating and accessing a submerged and compromised vessel.

Can you briefly explain, if you can, the engineering behind how submarines are able to navigate such crushing depths in the first place—and why Titan was presumably unable to?

ChatGPT

Submarines are engineered to withstand and navigate crushing depths through careful design considerations and structural reinforcement. Here are some key aspects of submarine engineering that enable them to operate at great depths:

Pressure Hull: Submarines have a strong outer hull known as the pressure hull. It is typically made of high-strength steel or other materials with excellent pressure resistance. The pressure hull contains the internal compartments and systems, providing a secure and sealed environment for the crew and equipment.

Submarine Depth Rating: Submarines are designed and built with a specific depth rating, which indicates the maximum operational depth they can safely reach. The materials, construction techniques, and engineering calculations ensure that the pressure hull can withstand the external pressure at that depth.

Structural Integrity: The pressure hull is carefully engineered to distribute and handle the immense external pressure. It includes reinforcements, such as frames, rings, and bulkheads, to enhance the structural integrity and prevent collapse. The hull design undergoes rigorous testing and analysis to ensure its ability to resist implosion.

Safety Margins and Factor of Safety: Engineers incorporate safety margins and factor of safety in the submarine’s design. These additional strength allowances beyond the anticipated loads provide an extra level of protection against unexpected pressure variations or structural stress, ensuring a higher level of safety.

Regarding the case of the submarine “Titan,” without specific information about its design, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for its presumed inability to withstand the crushing depths. However, some potential factors that could contribute to its failure include:

Design Limitations: The submarine may have been designed with a lower depth rating or structural integrity compared to other submarines intended for deeper operations. Design compromises or limitations could have made it more susceptible to implosion under external pressure.

Structural Flaws or Damage: If the submarine had pre-existing structural flaws, defects, or damage, it could have weakened its ability to withstand the extreme pressure at depth. Corrosion, fatigue, or inadequate maintenance might have compromised the submarine’s integrity.

Operational Errors or Accidents: Human error, operational mishaps, or accidents such as collisions could have caused damage to the submarine’s hull, rendering it unable to withstand the surrounding pressure.

It is important to note that specific details about the submarine “Titan” are not available in this context, and these are general considerations related to submarine engineering and potential factors that could contribute to a submarine’s failure at great depths.

Murray Foster | July 4, 2023 at 8:27 am | Reply

More from ChatGPT:

Given a cylinder composed of carbon fiber, what are its probable failure modes under extreme external pressure?

ChatGPT

When a carbon fiber cylinder is subjected to extreme external pressure, several failure modes are possible:

Buckling: Buckling occurs when the cylinder’s axial compressive load exceeds its critical buckling load. The carbon fiber layers may fail due to compression, leading to local buckling or overall instability of the cylinder.

Fiber Failure: Carbon fiber composites are composed of individual carbon fibers embedded in a matrix material, such as epoxy. Under extreme pressure, the fibers may experience failure modes like fiber microbuckling, fiber crushing, or fiber breakage. These failures can weaken the overall structural integrity of the cylinder.

Matrix Failure: The matrix material that holds the carbon fibers together can also experience failure under extreme pressure. The matrix may undergo crushing, cracking, or delamination, causing a loss of load-bearing capability and compromising the cylinder’s strength.

Interfacial Failure: The interface between the carbon fibers and the matrix can experience debonding or interfacial shear failure under extreme pressure. If the adhesion between the fibers and the matrix is weakened or compromised, it can result in a loss of load transfer and reduced overall strength.

Resin Matrix Compression: Carbon fiber composites typically have a resin matrix that can undergo compression under extreme pressure. If the resin matrix is not capable of withstanding the external pressure, it can lead to resin crushing or deformation, reducing the cylinder’s load-bearing capacity.

Delamination: Delamination refers to the separation or splitting of layers within the carbon fiber composite. Under extreme pressure, the layers may delaminate due to the shearing forces exerted on the material, leading to a loss of structural integrity.

It’s important to note that the specific failure modes of a carbon fiber cylinder under extreme external pressure can depend on various factors, including the design, manufacturing process, fiber orientation, thickness, and quality of the composite material. Additionally, the response of the cylinder to extreme pressure may involve a combination of these failure modes rather than a single mode of failure.

Mark Tenchavez | July 4, 2023 at 12:38 pm | Reply

Ejection floating divce to send the Sub back up, would that would of work

LCD | July 4, 2023 at 12:43 pm | Reply

There is more information on what happened 2d submersible in the comments than there is in the article

Krk | July 4, 2023 at 1:18 pm | Reply

Find an ant on the sidewalk.

Smash it with a hammer.

That’s what happened to them.

Satisfied?

Lydia Smith | July 4, 2023 at 2:41 pm | Reply

Murray Foster,

“Probable failure modes”- Thank you very much for your comment. That’s the kind of info I’d expect from a physicist- something I don’t already know.

A site called scitechdaily.com I expected something more than all the other internet advertisements that pretend to be news or educational.

JOHN P SORG | July 4, 2023 at 4:26 pm | Reply

With the lid loose, heat up a Jerry can tighten down the lid, submerge and cold water, or just spray it with cold water. That Jerry can will implode (crush). Or, seal a Jerry can, then heat it up, and it will explode! Exact same physics concerning the Titan. Pressure gradient inside versus the pressure gradient outside. This is something that we learned in fifth grade science class. The passengers inside wouldn’t have known anything. By time their brain computed what was happening, it was already over. No pain no nothing! Kind of like a fly getting whacked with a fly swatter.

McSchad | July 7, 2023 at 11:31 am | Reply

My guess is that he didn’t have the money to do all the testing required to certify his invention. And his business plan was to generate income for the company by charging money to bring people of means to spectacular places. And then by having them sign releases, he felt he’d warned them of the dangers that he was willing to take himself. He wanted to prove his technology and then sell it to big oil companies. WHAT A TERRIBLE BUSINESS MODEL. He had safer subs for tourism. If he’d done the risky carbon fiber testing alone, it would feel tragic. Unfortunately this feels like involuntary manslaughter.

Steve Wagner | July 8, 2023 at 11:31 pm | Reply

So true he took those people down there not having any idea if it would survive generating large sums of equity to further his research

Nima | July 7, 2023 at 1:29 pm | Reply

Soooo, I might be wrong, but I’m simply not convinced.

In cases like this I believe experts tell us what we want to hear because the truth might be a bit too hard to swallow. Forgive the unintentional pun.

Let me give you my spin on this.

I had so much angst regarding what this could mean to the passengers. I wondered if they suffered fear and sadness or physical pain before the implosion. This is why I felt I had to understand the logical order of events to be able to come to terms with the unnecessary loss and sorrow affecting families, friends and colleagues.

This is my conclusion.

Submarines are highly technical tools that area created to withstand nature’s physics in order to transport people in an environment otherwise inhospitable for human beings.

Scientist are probably seldom, if ever, considered to be unintelligent. They are taught to think of any and every eventuality when creating machines. They have programmes troubleshooting inventions, simulating failures and so on.

There was, within the pressrelease following the tragic find of the debris and bodies, information on “failure in the pressurizing motor”.

This is where questions started popping up in my head.

So, a submarine is created to be able to withstand high pressures. For that to work you need a pressurizing motor that pushes back and works against the laws of physics. It would otherwise, soon, at enough depths start to crinkle and squeeze until an implosion would occur.

Being such an important part of a submarine (maybe the most important part), it would be, simply put, stupid not to have visual and auditive alarms going off following a failure. Unless we’re talking about complete electrical failure. But even then there should have been a backup system on batteries sending out alarms and maybe even SOS signals making it easier to be found and hopefully rescued.

So, while failure in the pressurizing motor would cause an implosion, the pressure would not be gone instantly. This is why my guess is that they probably knew and might have even felt or/and seen the cracking/crinkling of the structure before the implosion occured.

Yes, the moment of death was most likely instantaneous, but previous to that…no so much.

Cecemills | July 8, 2023 at 1:14 am | Reply

Mic dropped! Thank you.

Baozuci | July 8, 2023 at 10:13 am | Reply

Bard says the whole Titan/Oceangate thing might be a hoax.

Michael | July 8, 2023 at 12:55 pm | Reply

At that depth. It would have happened so quickly, they would have been dead long before there bodies even had time to register pain

Steve Wagner | July 8, 2023 at 11:54 pm | Reply

So true he took those people down there not having any idea if it would survive generating large sums of equity to further his research we were in the first grade when it comes to quantum physics is it theory or reality I think one’s thing for sure it was murder!

Source: scitechdaily.com

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