Scientists Solve the Mystery on Moving Death Valley Rocks

/ 2 years ago

Handout shows a trail left by a rock implanted with a motion-activated GPS unit in the so-called Racetrack Playa of California's Death Valley

No matter how advanced we get, there still are dozens of unsolved mysteries everywhere. One of them is, or rather was, about the rocks that moved in strange patterns and seaminly by themselves through the death valley. And we aint talking small pebbles here, these stones weigh up 700 pounds each.

This however is one of the mysteries that was possible to solve definitive using our modern technology, and it was just a matter of time before someone with the right equipment found interest in it. A group of scientist led by paleobiologist Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have published a study in the journal PLOS One last week, showing just how it actually happens.

I was taught in high-school that the reason was enormous ice layers and heavy wind that made this possible, but shortly after I left school I learned that this was just one of many theories. Another was that it simply was the wind that moved the stones across the flat area. Other theories have involved sudden tilting of the earth as explanation, as well as magnetic influences.

Handout shows a rock containing a motion-activated GPS unit in the so-called Racetrack Playa of California's Death Valley

The stones however didn’t seem to move in any logic pattern and could suddenly change direction completely while at other times they would lay still and not move for decades. Using motion activated cameras and GPS sensors embedded in some of the rocks, it was possible to figure out this mystery.

The theory I learned in school wasn’t entirely wrong though, as ice is involved. But not thick layers, but rather very thin. This unusual combination of ice and slow winds in an otherwise extremely hot area is the cause for the phenomena.

That happens when the dry lake bed they are in freezes over with a thin layer of ice which then breaks apart in a light wind, sending large sheets of ice against the rocks with enough force to move them a few yards per minute, Norris said.

Because of the ability of the large ice sheets to catch the wind, and aided by the underlying flow of water, the rocks, which weigh as much as 700 pounds (318 kg), are pushed along in a way that could not occur from the force of the wind alone, he said.


Norris went on to say that he thinks it will have a massive popular appeal, because it is one of these things that’s very widely known about but kind of marveled at. He went on to say that other people undoubtedly have witnessed the phenomenon before, but didn’t understand what was going on.

Thank you Reuters for providing us with this information

Images courtesy of imgur.

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