Death Valley's Mysterious Sailing Stones Caught On Video

Death Valley's Mysterious Sailing Stones Caught On Video

Scientists capture first ever time lapse video of Death Valley's Sailing Stones moving across the desert.

The sailing stones of Death Valley are a staple on alien conspiracy theory lists and discussions about baffling Earth phenomena. Stones on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, ranging in size from pebbles to boulders, move across the flat surface, leaving tracks. The phenomenon is made stranger by the fact that multiple stones appear to have moved synchronously, turning or reversing in concert. Scientists have now captured the first video of a sailing stone in motion. In an article published August 27 in the journal PLOS One, the mechanism behind the motion of the rocks gets a complete scientific explanation.

The rocks have been generating discussion and theories about the cause of their movement since at least 1949, when the first report of the rocks was published. Many theories have been presented to explain how the rocks move, but scientists agree that the rocks are most likely to move when the playa is wet, and that wind is involved. Scientists have previously used GPS mapping to show that the rocks move in short spurts. For the study, a weather station, several time lapse cameras, and GPS-equipped rocks were installed at the Racetrack Playa.

Rarely, enough rain will fall on the playa that shallow ponds will form, and in winter the pond will freeze. The shallow pond leaves the tops of the rocks exposed, sticking up through the ice. A pond formed on the Racetrack Playa in November 2013, and remained there, freezing and thawing, until February 2014. The study reports that rock movement happened on sunny days following freezing nights. The sunlight melts some of the ice, creating a layer of water and mud. The floating ice breaks into panels that can be moved by winds and by the flowing water underneath. As a result, the rocks are pushed by the moving ice sheets, trapped in the ice but able to slide across the wet playa.

The study records one ice sheet moving more than 60 rocks at once. The rocks move slowly for only a few minutes, between 1 to 4 meters per minute (3 to 13 feet per minute), and the trails they leave only become visible once all the ice has melted and the water has evaporated. Ice sheets may collide, break up against large rocks, or further fracture as they move, explaining how some rocks seem to move in parallel for part of a track, and then take independent paths. Sustained winds are needed to cause the rock movement, with wind speeds of 3 to 4.5 meters per second (10 to 15 feet per second) recorded. The combination of the low friction of the muddy surface below the rocks, the floating fragmented ice sheets, and sustained winds can move even large boulders.

While the explanation is not as exciting as alien life sending us cryptic, rock-based messages, the sailing stones are still a fascinating natural event. What's your favorite strange Earth phenomenon?

Source: PLOS One

Permalink

Now all we need is someone to make the connection to that one Spongebob episode and post about it.

Oh.

OT: The Racetrack Playa is something truly awesome. Was there once as a little thing, but sadly can't remember it and my Ma left the camera in the last motel we stopped at on the way home.

Also,

"Aliens..."

"Oh no! The Aliens are using their advanced space technology to...move rocks! Aagh!"

Some people will go to extraordinary lengths to convince themselves that they're not grasping at straws.

I am surprised that the detail involving ice thaws wasn't more apparent. I've never looked into it myself, but it would seem like wind and rain seem like the first factors to check. I heard hypotheses about magnetic fields and pull by the moon's gravity (like tides), but those seem ridiculous compared to wind. I guess the narrative around these rocks was more captivating as a mystery than as ice and wind.

ryukage_sama:
I am surprised that the detail involving ice thaws wasn't more apparent. I've never looked into it myself, but it would seem like wind and rain seem like the first factors to check. I heard hypotheses about magnetic fields and pull by the moon's gravity (like tides), but those seem ridiculous compared to wind. I guess the narrative around these rocks was more captivating as a mystery than as ice and wind.

The full paper (which you can read in full at the source link) goes into detail about some previous theories. Wind moving rocks across a slick plain has been a major theory for a while, but the exact mechanism (particularly moving multiple rocks at once) has been hotly debated (how fast the wind has to be, how much water, the effect of ice, etc).

Oh those silly old rocks up to their old tricks again!

Ok guys, that's another mystery solved, but we really need to get back to curing cancer now.

I had always assumed the sailing rock phenomenon was due to MAGNETS.

odolwa:
Ok guys, that's another mystery solved, but we really need to get back to curing cancer now.

All very good, but I wouldn't want geologists working on the cure for cancer unless it could be found that certain minerals actually stop cancer growth.

OT: The rocks are filling in for the lack of tumbleweeds.

odolwa:
Ok guys, that's another mystery solved, but we really need to get back to curing cancer now.

I don't think you want the cure a geologist would come up with...

Aww the answer for this phenomenon is boring. Thanks a lot, science.

Hdawger:
I had always assumed the sailing rock phenomenon was due to MAGNETS.

But how to they work?

I can't be the only one who thought of this.

Fake, the government don't want us to know the truth so they used CGI fakery to make this. If they didn't the Aliens did so their secrets remain safe, they came all the way here to move rocks and make crop circles so they are certainly capable of making and inserting fake footage into the equipment.

Next the Americans will be telling us they went to the Moon again...

you know, there is a reason why i always use "intelligent rocks that take a year to say hello to eachother" as an example of "alien lifeform we could easily miss and think its not life"....

Jokes aside, this isnt a new phenomenom. there are rocks moving in deserts, dried lakes, ect. altrough i didnt hear about these specific rocks being filmed so i guess its still "news".

For those wondering, 3 to 13 feet per minute is about 0.6 to 2.52 inches per second.

I fucking knew it! When I was there, I knew I was being watched by somebody... turns out the rocks are alive!
TAKE THAT YOU FILTHY DOCTORS! I'M KNEW I'M NOT CRAZY!

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here