Uncovering The Mystery Of Sailing Stones Of Death Valley

Sailing Stone
Sailing Stone
Are these stones really sailing ?
Are these stones really sailing ?

The Mojave desert of California USA is undoubtedly the most scorching desert of the 27 deserts of the world. Mojave has a total area of about 65,000 sq.km. approximately and especially the 209 X 10 to 23 km. stretch, is famous as the death valley has record high of 57 degrees on 10th July 1913.

The record was later shattered on 13th of September 1922 by Al – Aziziya(Located in Libya,Africa) that has recorded 58 degrees for a few hours. Whereas, Death valley recorded consistently a scorching temperature of 49 degrees for nearly 43 days from July 6th to Aug 17th 1917. The scorching temperature is mainly attributed to the fact that the terrain is composed of dry saline flat land and not a sandy duny desert. This flat land is 86 m and 282 ft below sea level.

To the west of Death Valley lies a range of mountains that also has a flat dry plain that was a sort of lake and is more popularly known to the Americans as the ‘Racetrack Playa’ (playa means dry lake).

Sailing Stones
Sailing Stones

This flat plain that measures approx. 4.5 km x 2 km. is located at a height of 1130 m. above sea level hence the climate of this plain is obviously quite unlike the neighbouring death valley as it is located at a height that is 13 times. Hence during the winters it experiences freezing temperatures. This freezing has created the intriguing phenomena of skating stones.

Tracks carved out on the floor of the plain by sailing stones are strikingly visible some of which range from 25 meters to 250 meters, at the helm of each such track is a stone that can be of 150 kg to 250 kg. Obviously there is no slope that can aid the stones neither are the winds capable of creating a thrust that can move the stones then how on earth did these stones move – this phenomenon was for human intrigue since 1948 when it first came to light. Observing these stones for long hours one could not witness their budge still the tracks keep elongating at a particular pace.

To crack the secret of the skating stones a first scientific research was presented by an American physicist T.Clements in 1952 and another based on altogether different equations by yet another scientist S.A.Shume in 1956. According to them the skating of the stones was attributed to really strong winds that blew over The Playa periodically.

Though winds played an important role yet theoretically their research was not explanative enough. Considering the weight of the stones and the resistance offered to them by their friction with the surface the wind force was not sufficient to make the stones move on the Playa surface.

Sailing Stone (Debunked Theory)
Sailing Stone (Debunked Theory)

After these initial efforts researchers worked hard for another 20 years, a notable effort came from Dr.Robert Sharp – using 30 stones of varied sizes he experimented and saw that except 2 of the 30 stones all had moved from their marked initial positions during a period of a year and Dr Robert opined that the funnel shape of the mountains surrounding the Playa coupled with gusty winds and lesser friction offered by rain moistened topsoil were responsible for the skating of the stones; these facts were not sufficient enough to explain the skating of stones that weighed as much as 300 kg. that won’t budge by impact of however strong winds.

Understanding the secret of the sailing stones the natural conditions of the racetrack Playa must be clearly understood. The Race Track Playa that measures nearly 7 sq. km. is surrounded by mountains and periodically stones of varied sizes and shapes have rolled down those slopes; the annual rainfall of 75-100 mm contributes some water to flow down the mountains and gets collected in the Playa and it was believed that it was then that the stones got to move. Those with rough bottom moved making a straight track whereas those with smooth bottom moved creating a comparatively crocked track. The fact is that the water in the playa dries up fast due to dry winds blowing at that height creating a pattern of mosaic tiles on the floor of the playa.

A very important phenomena to be noted is that when the water is still on the surface of the Playa the temperature falls to sub zero levels that freezes the water this was first witnessed by Ralph.D. Lorenz a physicist of Hopkins University,USA and this prompted him to consider the possibility of the buoyancy of ice also aiding the strong winds in making the stones of the Playa to move. This consideration led him to solve the mystery of the sailing stones of the Playa. The fact of existence of buoyancy of ice was not at all considered by his predecessor researchers.

Sailing Stone(Accepted Theory)
Sailing Stone(Accepted Theory)

The calculations of Ralph Lorenz can be explained by the fact that the mountains surrounding the Playa consist of dolomite stones that are composed of magnesium and calcium carbonate in comparatively higher proportion (hence called dolomite) hence the stones that roll down to the Playa are naturally dolomite stones that weigh around 2700 kg/cu.m. the weight of water is 1000 kg/cu.m. and that of the ice is 900 kg/cu.m.thus ice being lighter than water floats and the stones of the Playa if embedded in considerably thick layer of ice literally makes them move as these moving stones by the impact of the buoyancy and least friction on the surface of the Playa.

This research of Ralph Lorenz was published in “The American Journal of Physics” and ultimately revealed the secret of the skating stones of the Death Valley National Park (The Racetrack Playa).

The phenomenon of the sailing stones was further confirmed by a team of Geo-physicists from NASA who presented data using HygroChrons (hygro means moisture and chron refers to time) that are instruments which were embedded in the terrain of playa at a depth of 2 cm. and 7 cm.

So, now we can say that Sailing Stones are not really something extraterrestrial or something which cannot be explained.

Image Source: Dvice.com | Amusingplanet.com | Wikipedia.org

1 Comment on Uncovering The Mystery Of Sailing Stones Of Death Valley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*