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Explorers in Lake Michigan Discover 1886 Shipwreck Using Newspaper Clippings as Clues

Nearly 140 years after a ship went down in Lake Michigan, explorers have discovered the wreck “remarkably intact” after following clues from old newspaper clippings. The wreck of the steamship Milwaukee, which sank after colliding with another vessel in 1886, was found 360 feet below the water’s surface, explorers from the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) said this weekend.

The researchers said they located the Milwaukee in June 2023 using side-scan sonar and then surveyed the wreck using a remote operated vehicle (ROV). The team announced its discovery to a live audience at a theater in Holland, Michigan, at the association’s annual film festival.


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Sonar showing the steamship Milwaukee.
Michigan Shipwreck Research Association

Originally, the 135-foot vessel had three decks, two designed for freight and one for passengers. But after the Wall Street panic of 1873, many Great Lakes ships like the Milwaukee were repurposed to accommodate more cargo, such as lumber, iron and packaged goods.

In 1883, a businessman named Lyman Gates Mason of Muskegon bought the Milwaukee to haul his company’s lumber to Chicago. The vessel was converted to fit Mason’s needs, but there were no photographs to provide any details of how the ship was altered.

“It was newspaper accounts of the sinking that provided the clues we needed to locate the shipwreck,” said Valerie van Heest, who created the search grid.

Newspapers described how on July 9, 1868, the Milwaukee set a course to Muskegon, Michigan to pick up a cargo of lumber as a nearly identical ship, the C. Hickox, left Muskegon for Chicago with a load of lumber, while towing a fully packed schooner barge. Though the lake was calm that day, smoke from wildfires burning in Wisconsin was hanging in the air, and eventually the ships ended up on collision course. Under navigational rules, Captain Armstrong on the Milwaukee and Captain O’Day on the Hickox were supposed to slow down, steer right, and sound their steam whistles. “But the old superstition that bad things happen in threes would haunt the captains of both ships that night,” the shipwreck association said.

Neither captain ordered their ship to slow down, according to the report, because “a thick fog rolled in rendering them both blind.”

Captain O’Day finally made a turn, but when he tried to pull his steam whistle, the pull chain broke, and soon the Hickox plowed into the side of the Milwaukee.

“Pandemonium broke out on the Milwaukee. The captain went below deck and saw water pouring in,” the shipwreck association said.


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The steamship Milwaukee
Michigan Shipwreck Research Association

Almost two hours after the collision, the Milwaukee plunged to the bottom of Lake Michigan. Luckily, everyone on the ship had made it safely aboard the Hickox.

“News accounts of the accident, as well as the study of water currents, led us to the Milwaukee after only two days searching,” said Neel Zoss, who spotted the wreck on the sonar.

The Milwaukee was found resting on the bottom of the lake facing northeast, the same direction it had been heading 137 years earlier when it went down.

“Visibility was excellent” said Jack van Heest, who piloted the ROV. “We saw the forward mast still standing as the ROV headed down to the bottom.”

After studying the wreck, the explorers realized the Milwaukee had indeed been remodeled, with the pilothouse and aft cabin made smaller in order to accommodate more lumber.

Both of the ship captains temporarily lost their licenses after the accident.

“Slowing down in the face of danger may be the most important lesson this shipwreck can teach,” the shipwreck association wrote.

The announcement of the Milwaukee’s discovery comes just a few months after a man and his daughter found the remains of a ship that sank in Lake Michigan 15 years before the Milwaukee, in 1871.

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Can Martian atmospheric samples provide greater insights into the Red Planet compared to surface samples?

Could Martian atmospheric samples teach us more about the Red Planet than surface samples? This is a question that has intrigued scientists and researchers for years, and a recent study presented at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference delves into this intriguing topic. The study, conducted by a team of international researchers, aimed to explore the significance of returning atmospheric samples from Mars and how they could provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of the Red Planet.

NASA is currently focused on returning surface samples from Mars in the hopes of uncovering clues about the ancient history of the planet and the possibility of past life. However, the researchers behind this study argue that atmospheric samples could offer a unique perspective on Mars’ history that surface samples may not be able to provide. To shed light on this fascinating subject, lead author Dr. Edward Young, a professor at UCLA, and co-author Dr. Timothy Swindle, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona, shared their insights with Universe Today.

Dr. Young explains, “We learn a lot about the origin of a planet from its atmosphere as well as its rocks. In particular, isotope ratios of certain elements can constrain the processes leading to the formation of the planet.” This highlights the importance of studying both atmospheric and surface samples to gain a comprehensive understanding of Mars’ geological and evolutionary history.

One of the key motivations behind obtaining atmospheric samples from Mars is to complement the data collected from surface samples. Dr. Swindle elaborates on this, stating, “We need an atmospheric sample to know what the rocks might have been exchanging elements and isotopes with. But we’d also like to have a sample of the Martian atmosphere to answer some basic questions about processes that have occurred, or are occurring, on Mars.” This dual approach could provide scientists with a more holistic view of the complex processes that have shaped the Red Planet over billions of years.

The study outlines several potential benefits of obtaining atmospheric samples, including gaining insights into the Martian interior, evolutionary trends in atmospheric compositions, nitrogen cycling, and sources of methane on Mars. The recent incident with the NASA Perseverance rover, where it inadvertently collected atmospheric gases instead of a rock core sample, underscores the importance of studying atmospheric samples alongside surface samples.

While the idea of returning atmospheric samples from Mars is still in the development stage, the researchers discuss potential methods for collecting these samples. Dr. Swindle mentions two proposed approaches, including flying a spacecraft through the Martian atmosphere to collect samples or using a sample return cannister on the surface of Mars equipped with an air compressor. Although there are currently no concrete plans for dedicated atmospheric sample missions, initiatives like the Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars (SCIM) have previously been proposed.

Looking ahead, the researchers emphasize the value of atmospheric samples in unraveling the mysteries of Mars’ past, including its potential for supporting life. Despite Mars’ current harsh conditions, evidence from past missions suggests a more hospitable environment billions of years ago, with flowing water and active volcanism. The quest to uncover whether ancient life existed on Mars remains a tantalizing prospect, and atmospheric samples could hold vital clues.

In conclusion, the study presents a compelling case for the importance of Martian atmospheric samples in advancing our understanding of the Red Planet’s history and evolution. As Dr. Young aptly puts it, “Only time will tell, and this is why we science!” The ongoing pursuit of scientific exploration and discovery continues to fuel our curiosity about Mars and the broader cosmos, inspiring us to keep looking up and delving deeper into the mysteries of the universe.

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