Time lapse video solves the mystery of Death Valley’s sailing stones

time lapse video solves mystery death valleys sailing stones
Death Valley’s infamous “sailing stones” have been puzzling scientists for decades. The heavy stones, which occupy the unwaveringly flat floor of a dried-up lake known as Racetrack Playa, leave long tracks behind them as if they have been pushed by an invisible force.

People have been studying the rocks since the early 1900’s, and theories about how they move have ranged from the paranormal/extraterrestrial, to more scientifically-grounded speculation — but up until now, there hasn’t been any concrete proof of how they sail across the desert floor. This lack of empirical evidence is largely due to the fact that the rocks move so slowly and sporadically (sometimes staying stationary for years, then moving a few feet seemingly overnight) that monitoring their movement is rather difficult — especially in the harsh, unforgiving environment of Death Valley.

But now, thanks to time-lapse photography, weatherproof camera equipment, and a fair bit of luck; researchers have finally caught the stones in the act and solved the centuries-old mystery of how they move.

Prior to this evidence, one of the most scientifically-sound theories was that the sailing stones are pushed across the playa by a phenomenon known as an ice shove — an event that occurs when wind and temperature differences create ice sheets that push things across a landscape. This theory, despite being one of the more viable explanations, was difficult to prove, since Death Valley –one of the hottest, driest places in North America– rarely freezes over.

It does happen though. Oceanographer Richard Norris of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his cousin, engineer James Norris of Interwoof in Santa Barbara, managed to catch the phenomenon on camera, and in the process, proved that ice shoves are what cause the infamous sailing stones to travel.

Occasionally, during cold winter months, moisture will collect and form shallow ponds in Racetrack Playa and sub-zero temperatures will cause these ponds to freeze. Later in the day, when the sun rises and the weather warms up, these frozen ponds will fracture and break apart as the surface ice begins to melt. As the newly-liquified water flows across the ground, it moves large ice chunks along with it. Collisions between these massive ice sheets and the stones on the desert floor are what propel them along the ground, causing them to leave tracks. Case closed.

Check out the video below for a more in-depth explanation from Norris himself:

Emerging Tech

Warm up or cool down with the press of a button on the wrist-worn Embr

We review the Embr Wave, a personal heating and cooling wearable designed by a team of MIT engineers that’s now on Kickstarter. Our thoughts? It’s a little bit addictive.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this fall with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Castle Rock'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we've put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.

These are the best Xbox One games available right now

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.
Emerging Tech

‘Super-Earth’ discovered orbiting nearby star

Astronomers have discovered a large planet circling a sun nearby to Earth called Barnard's Star. The potential new planet is thought to be cold and icy and has a size of around 3.2 times the Earth.
Emerging Tech

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tests its asteroid-sampling arm

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, launched in September 2016, is closing in on its target of the Bennu asteroid. The craft has now unfurled its robotic arm, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and tested it successfully.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?
Product Review

DJI has always been the king of drones, and the new Mavics are almost perfect

After flying both the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom for over a week, we’re convinced that these are two of the best drones that DJI has ever made.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Emerging Tech

Smarter cities need smarter addresses. And you just need 3 words

To make really smart transportation choices, more precise location data will have to be integrated with citywide transportation data. Here’s how one company is mapping the world by using just three words.
Emerging Tech

Ghostly galaxy discovered lurking on the edge of the Milky Way

A team of astronomers from the University of Cambridge have discovered a strange galaxy next door to the Milky Way. The dwarf galaxy, named Antlia 2, is dark and dim and gives out much less light than expected.
Emerging Tech

Ancient crater the size of NYC discovered under the Greenland ice sheet

A huge crater has been discovered beneath the ice of Greenland, and is thought to be the result of a meteorite impact millions of years ago. The crater is one of the largest ever discovered, measuring 19 miles across.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how the InSight mission to Mars will confirm its landing to NASA

NASA's InSight mission has sent a lander to Mars. NASA researchers have now shared details on how they will monitor the touching down of the lander at the end of its 91 million mile journey.