Popular Science

Death Valley’s boulders move all on their own

A HISTORY OF ROCK MOVEMENT POSTULATIO­NS

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ALGAE FLOAT

One researcher suggested that algal film might form on the playa, making the flat surface slick enough that a prevailing breeze could scoot the rocks along.

WHIPPING WIND

Some theorists thought air currents worked on their own. If ever a hurricanef­orce wind swept over Southern California, it could certainly push the boulders around.

OUTSIDE FORCE

An unsubstant­iated claim once held that something in Earth’s magnetic field triggered the stones’ sudden movement.

(It makes more sense than aliens, another popular hypothesis.)

ICY PUSH

One group got close: It proposed that during a storm, ice would freeze around the stones and they’d glide across the playa. But ice can’t hold that fast to individual rocks the way it can in one big sheet.

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