The Mysterious Sailing Stones

The universe has some exciting powers that continue to amaze people. There are naturally occurring phenomena in the world that still generate wonder despite being explained in scientific terms. Ever heard of the blood falls on Antarctica? How these extraordinary things came to exist become interesting subjects of discussion to some, relating it questions of mystical forces and extra-terrestrial existence. Some phenomena have explanations, while some continue to remain a mystery.

Indeed, science is the language of deciphering mysteries. In this day and age, the world is somehow lucky to have access to advanced science and technology that can unravel the universe’s mysteries.

However, there was a time in history when technology was not that far-fetched, and people were left to wonder.

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley

Milky Way’s panorama with the tracks of sailing stones below- Notice the stone on the right side.

In the 1900s, the world was dumbfounded when some rocks in the infamous Death Valley in the United States seemed to have moved on their own.

In 1915, prospector Joseph Crook from Fallon, Nevada, visited the Racetrack Playa site. He saw rocks that seemed to have moved through the plain by themselves, leaving tracks of their movement. No known human or animal intervention caused the movement, and this puzzled Crook.

This phenomenon is known to be the mysterious Sailing Stones of Death Valley.

Among the documented rocks weigh 700 lbs. (318 kilograms), some as long as 820 feet (250 meters), and 260 m (850 ft) high. There are indeed huge rocks.

The movement often created straight lines, and while some would abruptly shift either to the left or right. This baffled people even more. Some stones would turn over, exposing their upturned side.

These sailing stones are mostly found at Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California, and at Little Bonnie Claire Playa, in Nevada.

Through time, people speculated that aliens did it. Others thought it was because of magnetic fields. However, these were debunked, and for a long time, the mystery of the sailing stones remained unanswered.

Without a clear answer, people wondered: how is this possible?

Initial Reports and Research

Joseph Crook’s first observation in 1915 was picked up by geologists Jim McAllister and Allen Agnew, who did the initial mapping of the area in 1948 and came up with the earliest report about the sliding rocks in a Geologic Society of America Bulletin. In 1952, naturalists from the National Park Service later published more elaborate documentation of the phenomenon in Life magazine, featuring a set of photographs from the area.

In 1955, forty years after the discovery of the mysterious movement of the sailing stones, geologist George M. Stanley, published a paper on the topic. The paper highlighted the involvement of ice and wind in the possibility of the movement. This generated more studies and speculations on ice and wind being the major culprits of the mystery.

Further studies found out that the rocks are syenite, dolomite, and black dolomite.

Information from the 21st Century

But because of technology, we were able to unravel the mystery through science and experimentation.

In 2006, a NASA scientist named Ralph Lorenz started an investigation on the Sailing Stones of the Death Valley. Lorenz compared the area’s meteorological conditions to that of Titan, a moon of the planet Saturn. Lorenz conducted an experiment using a Tupperware container to figure out how the rocks might glide through the lake bed with ice and wind intervention.

He created an imitation of the lake bed’s situation in the Tupperware container: a rock embedded in a thin sheet of ice. He then placed the rock-bound in thin ice in a large tray with water and sand at the bottom. He then gently blew on the rock, and it gradually moved across the water.

This led his team to conclude that with enough ice, water, a thin layer of clay, and wind, even huge rocks can move, creating the Sailing Stones phenomenon.

In 2013, the world finally announced to have answered the mystery of the Sailing Stones. On December 20, 2013, Richard Norris and James Norris conducted the mystery-answering experiment. They equipped the rocks with GPS devices and observed their movements with documentation.

The study confirmed that the thin layer of ice formulated in winter, plus the water from its melting and the strong winds in the area, made the movement of the rocks possible.

Besides, rocks from the playa lake bed were also subject to paleontology studies as some rocks were identified to contain fossils dating back to the Early Jurassic era.

Thanks to the technology that humans have developed through time as this helped people understand the universe better. There may still be a vast array of mysteries waiting to be discovered and answered. In the quest for knowledge, Earth humans are lucky to be backed up by modern science and technology.