Sailing Stones: Death Valley Mystery Solved

August 29, 2014 | By Garrett Montgomery More

Racetrack Playa Mystery Photo

Racetrack Playa mystery explained. The mystery of the moving rocks of the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park has finally been solved, thanks to two very determined cousins. The pair of scientists, Richard Norris and James Norris, focused on the Racetrack Playa mystery for two years and came to conclusion that a combination of geological elements make the rocks move.

The Racetrack Playa mystery is no more. For decades, strange theories about the famous sailing stones at the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park in California, were tossed around.

Some believed that the stones, which sometimes weighed more than 700 pounds were being moved around by aliens.

Others claimed that the wind was responsible for the strange phenomenon. While few claimed, it was ice and maybe mud or even small earthquakes.

Richard Norris and James Norris, two cousins who happen to be scientists have solved the Racetrack Playa mystery.

In order for the heavy rocks to move in the dry desert, it takes a combination of the following events, a shallow pond, ice, light breezes and sun.

For two years, Richard Norris and James Norris with the help of dedicated friends and family members took part in the Slithering Stones Research Initiative.

The experiment, which was lead by R. Norris from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego consisted of setting up a weather tower with cameras, inserting GPS capsules into 15 rocks and wait.

The paleobiologists said it was one of the most boring experiments they ever took part in.

They assumed that it would take more than 10 years to get the answer of how do rocks slitter like snakes in one of the hottest and driest places on this planet?

And in December of 2013, it happened. The scientists learned that rain created a shallow lake around the rocks.

The lake was peculiar, it was deep enough to create sheets of “windowpane” ice, but at the same time shallow enough for the rocks to be exposed.

When the hot sun emerged, it broke the ice into large floating panels that are moved by light winds of 10 mph and therefore slowly, very slowly pushing the rocks few millimeters.

Richard Norris and James Norris first came to Death Valley National Park with their dads who were also researchers in the 1960s, when they were little boys.

They said that their fathers would have been thrilled to know that they solved that Racetrack Playa mystery.

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    1. Gertrude says:

      This is quite fascinating.


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