The Mysterious Moving Stones “Sailing Stones”

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In some deserts across the world there are stones that seem to move along the surface. They leave trails behind, sometimes taking right angle turns. One might first write them off as the wind pushing them, but the speeds at which the wind has to blow to move these rocks are highly unlikely of happening. The linear pattern also suggests that it slides across the floor rather than being pushed around by any wind. It is still unknown why these stones would be able to slide across the desert in such a fashion. For years, scientists have been puzzled by the mysterious “sailing stones”. Some scientist thought that colonies of insects might be responsible for moving the stones, but this theory was quickly disproved by the weight of the stones, some of which weigh as much as 700 lbs. (318 kilograms). Theories ranging from magnetic fields to strong wind gusts and even the conspiracy theorist put their alien visitor theory into the possible explanation. Nevertheless all of the above theories were disproved absolutely.

“It’s very quiet out there, and it’s very open, and you tend to have the playa to yourself,” says Alan Van Valkenburg told, a park ranger who has worked at Death Valley for nearly 20 years. “And the longer you stay out there, it just takes on this incredible sense of mystery.” The mystery is rooted in an extraordinary fact: No one has ever actually seen the rocks move.

The rocks, trails were measured to be as long as 805 feet having very strange attributes which baffle scientist. Some of the trails formed a graceful curve, while others just created straight lines, then to make the puzzle more confusing they had abrupt shifts to the left or the right, which just adds onto the mystery.

Thankfully, In 2006 this mystery was put to rest when Ralph Lorenz, a NASA scientist came to death valley to gather some environmental research on a unrelated project and became intrigued by the sailing rock phenomenon. Ralph developed a small model experiment at home using Tupperware container and showed how the rocks could glide across the surface. In his words:

“I took a small rock and put it in a piece of Tupperware, and filled it with water so there was an inch of water with a bit of the rock sticking out,” Ralph Lorenz told

After putting the container in his fridge, Ralph ended up with a small slab of ice with a rock embedded in it. By placing the ice-bound rock in a large tray of water with sand at the bottom, all he had to do was gently blow on the rock to get it to move across the water. And as the ice-embedded rock moved, it scraped a trail in the sand at the tray’s bottom. Lorenz devised his clever experiment by researching how the buoyancy of ice can cause large rocks, when encased in ice, to move by floating along tidal beaches in the Arctic Sea. So in theory, on very rare occasions these sailing rocks can actually move

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