Scientists Solve the Mystery of Death Valley’s ‘Wandering Stones’


After 50 years, scientists have found the force behind a freaky phenomenon in Death Valley: rocks that seem to wander across the desert.

rock_Arno-Gourdol

Researchers recently recorded the first observation of the rocks moving using GPS and time-lapsed cameras.

While scientists previously speculated that these “wandering stones” were aided by high wind, water or ice, they now have a more specific answer.

“In contrast with previous hypotheses of powerful winds or thick ice floating rocks off the playa surface, the process of rock movement that we have observed occurs when the thin, 3 to 6 mm, ‘windowpane’ ice sheet covering the playa pool begins to melt in late morning sun and breaks up under light winds of [about] 4–5 [meters per second],” the study authors wrote in the abstract published in the journal PLOS One. “Floating ice panels 10 s of meters in size push multiple rocks at low speeds of 2–5 m/min. along trajectories determined by the direction and velocity of the wind as well as that of the water flowing under the ice.”

Scientists were actually on hand to witness the rocks moving in December 2013, when they trekked out to the park to check the equipment. Nature reported that when they arrived, they found a pond covered with ice. After a few days, the ice began to melt…Slowly but surely, the moving ice pushed the rocks.

Pretty cool. I wonder how many other seemingly supernatural things actually have scientific explanations, and we just haven’t figured them out yet.

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