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Expedition bids farewell to Titanic

An expedition to document the Titanic shipwreck site in 3-D has been brought to a quick end due to the approach of yet another hurricane.

The RV Jean Charcot headed back from the site in the North Atlantic at midnight and is due back in port at St. John's, Newfoundland, on Friday.

"Safety first," the Expedition Titanic team declared in a Facebook update. "The accelerated movement of Hurricane Igor means that we are leaving the wreck site earlier than expected. ... Even though we're leaving early, we still have plenty of great photos and videos to share over the coming weeks and months."

Some of those images document areas of the debris field that have been little-seen since the 98-year-old wreck of the luxury liner was rediscovered in 1985.

Anyone who's watched the movie "Titanic" is familiar with the ship's jutting bow  — which was the site of Leonardo DiCaprio's "King of the World" scene and now serves as the shipwreck's signature image. The bow was most recently featured in NBC News' reports from the expedition, aired last month before Hurricane Danielle forced a weeklong break in the action.

You can almost imagine the ghosts of the Titanic's 1,517 victims wafting along nearly intact decks and rusted-out staterooms. Not so with the stern, however. The area around the ship's backside, which has been the focus of the expedition's underwater survey for the past week, reveals the full violence of the Titanic's clash with an iceberg and its resulting breakup.

In the video above, which is being made available to the public here for the first time, you can see the steel of the hull broken off and peeled away like the skin of an orange. Whole sections of the hull are stacked on the seafloor, with portholes staring up like the eyes of dead fish.

You can also see a ship propeller lying amid the debris, and there's a close-up look at the conical top of a high-pressure cylinder from the Titanic's main engines. With a diameter of 54 inches and a stroke of more than 6 feet, this cylinder produced about 3,750 horsepower when the Titanic was moving full steam ahead.

Another video, shown for the first time below, surveys the debris field around the stern: a splayed-out section of the hull here, a porcelain basin there, the intricately wrought side piece from a bench sitting atop mangled metal, a brass grate gleaming dully in the deep.

Even though the expedition is winding down, there's lots more to see: The Expedition Titanic website provides a great overview of the effort, and you can count on RMS Titanic Inc.'s Facebook page, Twitter feed, Flickr photo site and YouTube video channel to point you to the latest imagery. The Waitt Institute and WHOI's Dave Gallo are filing updates as well. If you haven't seen Kerry Sanders' reports on the expedition, check 'em out now. And stay tuned for more pictures and first-run video in a follow-up Cosmic Log posting.

 For something completely different, you can tune in at 9 p.m. ET tonight (6 p.m. PT/SLT) and hear me chat with Jay Ackroyd on "Virtually Speaking" about the future of NASA. The show is being simulcast on Second Life and BlogTalkRadio. If you miss it, don't worry: The show will be archived. Join the Cosmic Log corps by signing up as my Facebook friend or hooking up on Twitter. And if you really want to be friendly, ask me about "The Case for Pluto."