After much more than seventy year of make the efforts to solve the mystery of death Valley’s sailing stones, U.S. Researchers led by Dr Brian Jackson that Boise State University have finally caught the stones in action.

You are watching: Death valley rocks moving by themselves


Thin sheets the ice press rocks throughout a dried lake in fatality Valley when problems are just right. Image credit: Norris RD et al.

One the the most amazing mysteries of death Valley national Park is the slide stones at Racetrack Playa (a playa is a dried lake bed).

These stones deserve to be discovered on the floor the the playa with lengthy trails behind them. Somehow the stones slide across the playa, cut a furrow in the sediment together they move.

Remarkably, multiple stones frequently show parallel tracks, including apparently synchronous high edge turns and also sometimes reversals in travel direction.

Some of the stones weigh an ext than 300 kg. That renders the question: “what powerful force could be moving them?”

Scientists have investigated this question since the very first report in 1948, yet no one has seen the phenomenon in action – till now.


Time lapse images of a relocating rock gained on January 9, 2014: photo on the left mirrors the wide-angle view; interior black framework indicates the check out in other frames; in close-up frames, blue arrows display stationary rocks and also red arrow – a rock in movement (moving from left to right); full movement lasted about 18 seconds; dark, flat locations on the pond room panels of about 3 mm special ice surrounding by rippled water number of centimeters deep; ice thickness estimated from inshore ice panels; damaged ice panels collected on the upstream next of the moving rock in the last two images. Picture credit: Norris RD et al.

Because the stones deserve to sit for a decade or an ext without moving, Dr Jackson and his colleagues made decision to monitor them remotely by installation a weather station capable of measure gusts come one-second intervals and also fitting 15 stones v custom-built, motion-activated general practitioners units.

Their experiments verified that moving the stones calls for a rare mix of events.

First, the playa fills through water, which should be deep sufficient to type floating ice during cold winter nights however shallow sufficient to reveal the stones. Together nighttime temperatures plummet, the pond freezes to type thin sheets the ‘windowpane’ ice, which have to be thin sufficient to relocate freely yet thick enough to keep strength. On clear days, the ice starts to melt and break increase into big floating panels, which irradiate winds drive throughout the playa, pushing rocks in front of them and also leaving trails in the soft mud below the surface.

These observations upended previous theories that had actually proposed hurricane-force winds, slick algal films, or thick sheets of ice as likely contributors to rock motion.

Instead, the stones relocated under light winds of about 3-5 m per 2nd and were thrust by ice less than 3-5 mm thick, a measure as well thin to grip large stones and lift them off the playa, which several records had proposed as a system to mitigate friction. Further, the stones relocated only 2-6 m per minute, a rate that is almost imperceptible in ~ a distance and also without stationary referral points.

Individual stones remained in motion for all over from a few seconds to 16 minutes.

In one event, the researchers observed stones 3 football fields apart began moving simultaneously and traveled over 60 m prior to stopping.

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“We documented five movement events in the two and a half months the pond existed and also some involved hundreds the stones. For this reason we have actually seen that even in death Valley, famous for that heat, floating ice cream is a powerful force in stone motion,” said Dr Richard Norris from Scripps college of Oceanography, who is the very first author that a file published in the newspaper PLoS ONE.


Norris RD et al. 2014. Slide Rocks on Racetrack Playa, death Valley national Park: an initial Observation that Rocks in Motion. PLoS ONE 9 (8): e105948; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105948