A while back we talked about the Siberian mystery holes and now it’s time we took a look at another mystery that seems to have finally been solved: the Death Valley sailing stones! The barren lake bed in Death Valley National Park in California has massive stones that seem to miraculously move across the landscape.
The first scientific study of the Death Valley sailing stones was published in 1948 and it concluded that the massive rocks moved due to dust devils. Another popular and more recent theory on why the stones are travelling said that it was the hurricane-force winds that are behind the stones’ movement. The truth is somewhere closer to the more recent explanation and it appears that water and winds are what make these Death Valley sailing stones sail.
The place where the rocks are located is called Racetrack Playa, because of the racetracks that the stones leave behind them when they are moving. Here’s how the stones move: firstly, the Racetrack Playa needs to fill with water, but it needs to be very shallow, as to leave the stones exposed. Then, during the nighttime, the temperature in the Death Valley reach freezing point, which causes the water to freeze, forming large-size panes, which are thin enough to simply glide across the empty lake bed, but thick enough to cause the stones to move.
When the sun comes up and thaws the ice, the sheets of ice break apart in pieces, which the winds then move around. When one piece of ice piece hits a stone, it makes it glide across the soft mud, which causes the popular trails.
The results that explain the process were published yesterday in the science journal PLOS ONE.
James Norris, a research engineer, talked to the Los Angeles Times:
I’m amazed by the irony of it all. In a place where rainfall averages two inches a year, rocks are being shoved around by mechanisms typically seen in arctic climes. The movement is incredibly slow. These rocks clock in at about 15 feet per minute.
The scientists even heard the ice crack and they saw the rocks how they began to sail. James Norris continued:
There was a side of me that was wistful because the mystery was no more.
What are your thoughts on the Death Valley sailing stones? Are you content with the explanation and discovery? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.