The Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa, Death valley

Sailing Stones

Science with its many endeavors has gone beyond our imaginations in every single sphere of our lives and has successfully been able to woo us by its many achievements. However, not every time does it make the grade to trace down some unexplained phenomena that keep happening in our surroundings, just like the ‘sailing stones’ of Racetrack Playa, Death valley which has confounded many geologists and still remain a mystery to be solved.

Sailing stones travel and move long tracks across smooth floors seemingly on their free will without any human or animal intervention. They don’t tumble; don’t walk, but just sail. This phenomenon has gained a great deal of weight since it has been poorly understood by our scientists and it was even believed to be caused by some magical powers. Since very long they have become the subject of research and brought about many hypothesis.

They move and leave straight or zigzag trails behind them that have stirred many assumptions that revolve around supernatural activities, earthquake, aliens, animals, gravitational force, and so on. Some even have moved 360 degrees and headed back to the same place that they previously had originated from. Stones that have rough bottoms leave straight trails while those with smoother bottoms wander. They move as if they have been tamed just like a toy car controlled by a remote or looks as if the stones are pretty alive and are moving around the valley themselves.

Sailing Stones

Various idiosyncratic theories and explanations have been put forward to understand the concept behind this kind of migration. These stones weigh hundreds of pounds and travel as far as 1000 feet, which raises a question before us. “How do they move?”

They rarely show some movement (one once every 3-4 years), which is why they have never been caught on cam. People tried to attach radio transmitters with them to catch them in act. However, it was forbidden to make instrumentation in the Death Valley Playa. Moreover, it is non-permitted to wander on playa grounds when it is wet, as that would leave tenacious footprints.

Theories, Speculations and Suggestions

Some speculated that they were driven by gravitational force and were forced to slide down a steady slope over a long period of time. But, it was later revealed that the northern end of the Racetrack Playa is a couple of centimeters higher compared to the southern end, which enables the rock to move uphill.

People also questioned the geological properties of these stones that are scientifically known as ‘dolomites.’ While most of them are dolomites, others are intrusive igneous rocks from adjacent slopes. This fact has intrigued a lot of geologists, but was soon ruled out as they are hard enough like diamonds that would surely not help them move.

This area is always under observation of researchers and every activity immediately gets detected, therefore considering the thoughts of earthquake activity and magnetic field actions is in vain.

Some theories also suggest that when the desert’s flat floor is saturated with water, it forces the stones to slither like a yacht propelled in the ocean water. The water reportedly gets collected of the snow runoff from the nearby mountains. The ice surrounds the stones which scientists name as ‘ice-collar.’ This causes the stones to slide along the floors. Another theory suggests the stones are moved by the strong 90mph (140kmh) winds in winter time. As an extra added effect the surface of the racetrack playa is flooded yearly which decreases friction and consequently the force needed to move the stones.

This mysterious moving stones behavior has never culminated in a concrete scientific explanation. We hope that advanced technologies in the future will shed more light on them. However, they will always be a unique and magical creation of nature no matter a mechanism is determined or not.

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