The first comprehensive map of the Titanic wreck site has been created as researchers pieced together some 130,000 photos taken by underwater robots in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Resembling the moon's surface, the map shows debris and parts of the ship scattered across a 15 square-mile patch of ocean floor.
The detailed images might provide new clues about what happened after the "unsinkable" luxury liner hit an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 of the 2,200 passengers and crew on board.
"If we are going to do our best to manage the Titanic wreck site as a testament to those that sailed on her, we need to understand the disposition and physical state of what's there," Titanic expedition co-leader David Gallo, director of special projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Mass., told Discovery News.
"In addition, we need to put Titanic in context of it is natural setting on the deep Atlantic seafloor," Gallo said.
It's not the first time that the Titanic wreck site has been mapped. The first attempts began soon after the doomed liner was discovered in 1985. Explorers used photos taken with cameras aboard remotely controlled vehicles, which did not hazard too far from the bow and stern.
Therefore, all the maps are incomplete, covering only fragmented portions of the wreck area.
"As much as 40 percent of the wreck site has not been fully studied and documented, including multiple hull sections," RSM Titanic Inc, the legal custodian of the wreck, said on its website.
The comprehensive survey map of the wreck site took place in the summer of 2010 as part of a project aimed at "virtually raising Titanic and preserving her legacy for all time."
The expedition to the wreck was led by RMS Titanic Inc., the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Waitt Institute of La Jolla, California. They were joined by other groups, such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and cable TV's History channel.
During the expedition, torpedo-shaped AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) surveyed the entire search area with high-resolution side-scan sonar. Pinpointed by the AUVs, the debris-rich sites were then explored by a ROV (remote operated vehicle) fitted with cameras.