Mystery of Death Valley's moving rocks solved

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, CA JULY 15:  A runner passes through Death Valley during the AdventurCORPS Badwater 135 ultra-marathon race on July 15, 2013 in Death Valley National Park, California. Billed as the toughest footrace in the world, the 36th annual Badwater 135 starts at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, 280 feet below sea level, where athletes begin a 135-mile non-stop run over three mountain ranges in extreme mid-summer desert heat to finish at 8,350-foot near Mount Whitney for a total cumulative vertical ascent of 13,000 feet. July 10 marked the 100-year anniversary of the all-time hottest world record temperature of 134 degrees, set in Death Valley where the average high in July is 116. A total of 96 competitors from 22 nations are attempting the run which equals about five back-to-back marathons. Previous winners have completed all 135 miles in slightly less than 24 hours.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) (David McNew, 2013 Getty Images)
Annual Badwater Ultra Marathon Held In Death Valley's Extreme Heat (David McNew, 2013 Getty Images)
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Updated: 8/28 11:45 am

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — For years scientists have theorized about how large rocks — some weighing hundreds of pounds — zigzag across Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, leaving long trails etched in the earth.

Now two researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have photographed these "sailing rocks" being blown by light winds across the former lake bed.

Cousins Richard Norris and James Norris say the movement is made possible when ice sheets that form after rare overnight rains melt in the rising sun, making the hard ground muddy and slick.

The phenomenon doesn't happen often because it rarely rains in the notoriously dry desert valley.

Their report says the rocks move very slowly — only about 15 feet per minute.

The findings were published Wednesday in the online journal PLOS ONE.

 

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