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Strangers in the night

Sailing stonessliding rocks, and moving rocks all refer to a geological phenomenon where rocks move and inscribe long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention.

Stones with rough bottoms leave straight striated tracks while those with smooth bottoms tend to wander. Stones sometimes turn over, exposing another edge to the ground and leaving a different track in the stone's wake.

Trails differ in both direction and length. Rocks that start next to each other may travel parallel for a time, before one abruptly changes direction to the left, right, or even back to the direction from which it came. Trail length also varies – two similarly sized and shaped rocks may travel uniformly, then one could move ahead or stop in its track.

Tracks of sliding rocks have been observed and studied in various locations, including Little Bonnie Claire Playa in Nevada, and most notably Racetrack PlayaDeath Valley National Park, California, where the number and length of tracks are notable. At Racetrack Playa, these tracks have been studied since the early 1900s, yet the origins of stone movement were not confirmed and remained the subject of research for which several hypotheses existed. However, as of August 2014, timelapse video footage of rocks moving has been published, showing the rocks moving at low wind speeds within the flow of thin, melting sheets of ice. The scientists have thus identified the cause of the moving stones to be ice shove.

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