12 Amazing Balancing Stones Around the World

Balancing rocks are truly stellar (and indeed interstellar) features that attract tourists, geologists, and increasingly, artists.

1. BALANCED ROCK // COLORADO, USA

A few hundred million years ago, Colorado was covered by a shallow inland sea that eventually turned into sandstone. As the area rose during the creation of the Rocky Mountains, the softer areas of sandstone eroded away, while the areas of the sandstone that were harder stayed put, giving us Colorado’s Garden of the Gods. Eventually, the erosion and weathering around the base will cause Balanced Rock (see photo above) to lose its balance and collapse.

2. BALANCING ROCKS // SEVERAL PLACES AROUND ZIMBABWE

Carine06, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

As in Colorado, these features were originally surrounded by softer rock that eroded away. As the rocks warmed and cooled, they cracked into nice geometric patterns. When the surrounding rock and dirt disappeared, they fell onto each other, just like bricks would if you removed the mortar [PDF]. Zimbabwe so appreciates these features that they have the rare geologic distinction of being featured on the 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note.

3. BIG BALANCED ROCK // CHIRICAHUA NATIONAL MONUMENT, ARIZONA

Al_HikesAZ, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Around 27 million years ago, the Turkey Creek volcano (now a caldera) erupted, covering areas of modern Arizona with over 1600 feet of ash and pumice that fused into a soft rock called welded tuff. But tuff isn’t very tough, and it began eroding away along the weaker areas at the rate of two thirds of an inch per thousand years [PDF]. Thankfully, the USGS says there is no risk to these rocks from erosion for the next several thousand years. A much bigger concern for the rocks is earthquakes, although they came through a recent 7.2 quake with only minor damage (nearby buildings weren't so fortunate).

4. PRECARIOUSLY BALANCED ROCKS // NEAR SAN ANDREAS FAULT, NEVADA AND CALIFORNIA

Nick Hinz // Nevada Bureau of Mines & Geology

If there's any place in the country where balancing rocks shouldn’t exist, it's near the San Andreas fault, where you'd think earthquakes would topple them like dominoes. Yet they are there, and have been for at least 10,000 years, through at least 50 large earthquakes. An attempt to address the mystery of how the rocks stay put was published in August, suggesting a theory that since the rocks are between the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults, there might be an interaction between the faults that protects the balanced rocks by lessening ground vibration in the area. This idea would fit into geologic theory—but would mean all our current models of the San Andreas fault are incomplete.

5. IDOL ROCK // YORKSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM

The strange Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire, of which Idol Rock is the most famous, were formed around 400 million years ago when the area was under a river. During the last glacial maximum, the nearby mountains were covered in glaciers, and where there are glaciers, there are glacial winds. The winds blew sand across the rocks at great speed, carving them into their odd new look—think of it like a natural form of sandblasting.

6. KUMMAKIVI BALANCING ROCK // FINLAND

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The name translates as “strange rock,” but in English we have our own name for these features: erratics. As glaciers advanced, they picked up boulders from the surrounding countryside, and carried them along—sometimes for hundreds of miles. But when the glacier began retreating, the rocks didn’t make the trip back, and instead were set down on the surrounding countryside—sometimes perfectly balanced on top of another rock.

7. BALANCING ROCK // HOLLISTON, MASSACHUSETTS

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

What makes this rock interesting is less the rock (it's a standard glacial erratic) than who attempted to knock it over. According to local legend, George Washington was traveling through and tried to push the rock down. Obviously, he failed.

8. RUGGESTEINEN // NORWAY

Sometimes a rock is so perfectly balanced that it can be rocked with just a bit of effort. This is the case with Ruggesteinen in Norway, also known as the Rocking Stone. Despite being over 70 tons, a couple of people pushing can move it.

9. KRISHNA'S BUTTER BALL // MAHABALIPURAM, INDIA

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This one is mysterious. It might be a glacial erratic, it might have been eroded out of the surrounding rock, or it may have been placed there by ancient Indians. According to legend, in 1908 the local British Governor decided that it was dangerous and needed to be removed. Seven elephants supposedly weren’t able to budge it. While the elephant story might be a myth, glaciers can transport extremely heavy rocks—there’s one in Canada that weighs 16,500 tons.

10. GOLDEN ROCK PAGODA // MYANMAR

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This 25-foot-tall rock is also mysterious. Myanmar does have glaciers, so that is always a possibility, but according to Buddhist tradition, the rock was placed there to enshrine a hair from the Buddha’s head.

11. MANMADE BALANCING STONES // AROUND THE WORLD

Recently, rock balancing has become a popular art. Based on traditional cairns (stacks of rocks that are either memorials or landmarks) they can become extremely intricate. But the craze is not without its critics. The removal of the rocks for the balancing act can cause the underlying soil to erode faster, as well as destroy the homes of small animals. In addition, building them in areas where cairns are used as trail markers is a quick way to get a lot of people very lost. Because of this, modern rock balancers prefer to place their rocks back where they found them after they take a few photos.

12. 67P/CHURYUMOV-GERASIMENKO // OUT OF THIS WORLD

ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

In 2014, the European Space Agency landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the images sent back to Earth was a picture of what look like balancing rocks on the surface of the comet. Their origin is mysterious: it could be that as the comet neared the Sun, ice melted away around these more impervious objects, leaving them behind. It could be that various interactions cause these boulders to move. Or it might even be camera perspective, and better imaging will reveal nothing out of the ordinary. Until then, any tour of the best balancing stones will require a space suit.

What Would Happen If a Plane Flew Too High?

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Tom Farrier:

People have done this, and they have died doing it. For example, in October 2004, the crew of Pinnacle Airlines 3701 [PDF]  was taking their aircraft from one airport to another without passengers—a so-called "repositioning" flight.

They were supposed to fly at 33,000 feet, but instead requested and climbed to 41,000 feet, which was the maximum altitude at which the aircraft was supposed to be able to be flown. Both engines failed, the crew couldn't get them restarted, and the aircraft crashed and was destroyed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable causes of this accident were: (1) the pilots’ unprofessional behavior, deviation from standard operating procedures, and poor airmanship, which resulted in an in-flight emergency from which they were unable to recover, in part because of the pilots’ inadequate training; (2) the pilots’ failure to prepare for an emergency landing in a timely manner, including communicating with air traffic controllers immediately after the emergency about the loss of both engines and the availability of landing sites; and (3) the pilots’ improper management of the double engine failure checklist, which allowed the engine cores to stop rotating and resulted in the core lock engine condition.

Contributing to this accident were: (1) the core lock engine condition, which prevented at least one engine from being restarted, and (2) the airplane flight manuals that did not communicate to pilots the importance of maintaining a minimum airspeed to keep the engine cores rotating.

Accidents also happen when the "density altitude"—a combination of the temperature and atmospheric pressure at a given location—is too high. At high altitude on a hot day, some types of aircraft simply can't climb. They might get off the ground after attempting a takeoff, but then they can't gain altitude and they crash because they run out of room in front of them or because they try to turn back to the airport and stall the aircraft in doing so. An example of this scenario is described in WPR12LA283.

There's a helicopter version of this problem as well. Helicopter crews calculate the "power available" at a given pressure altitude and temperature, and then compare that to the "power required" under those same conditions. The latter are different for hovering "in ground effect" (IGE, with the benefit of a level surface against which their rotor system can push) and "out of ground effect" (OGE, where the rotor system supports the full weight of the aircraft).

It's kind of unnerving to take off from, say, a helipad on top of a building and go from hovering in ground effect and moving forward to suddenly find yourself in an OGE situation, not having enough power to keep hovering as you slide out over the edge of the roof. This is why helicopter pilots always will establish a positive rate of climb from such environments as quickly as possible—when you get moving forward at around 15 to 20 knots, the movement of air through the rotor system provides some extra ("translational") lift.

It also feels ugly to drop below that translational lift airspeed too high above the surface and abruptly be in a power deficit situation—maybe you have IGE power, but you don't have OGE power. In such cases, you may not have enough power to cushion your landing as you don't so much fly as plummet. (Any Monty Python fans?)

Finally, for some insight into the pure aerodynamics at play when airplanes fly too high, I'd recommend reading the responses to "What happens to aircraft that depart controlled flight at the coffin corner?"

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Baskin-Robbins Russia Debuts Self-Driving Ice Cream Truck

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iStock

While technologists tend to tout the potential benefits of self-driving cars for futuristic commuters, the best use of autonomous driving technology may not involve passengers at all. (Apologies to everyone who wants to nap while they drive.) What we really need are self-driving ice cream trucks.

In Russia, that's already a reality. A driverless ice cream truck from Baskin-Robbins Russia and a company called Avrora Robotics just debuted in Moscow, according to The Calvert Journal.

The VendBot, similar to a smart ice cream vending machine on wheels, debuted at Moscow's Hydroaviasalon conference, an event about seaplane technology and science. The small vehicle is currently designed to move around parks, event spaces, and shopping centers, and can maneuver independently, detecting obstacles and stopping for customers along the way. For its debut, it was stocked with six different Baskin-Robbins flavors.


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Based on videos of the VendBot Baskin-Robbins Russia posted to the company's Instagram account, the miniature truck doesn't come equipped with the jingles U.S. ice cream trucks play incessantly. Instead, it beeps to alert potential customers of its presence instead. Once it stops, customers can order their dessert from a keypad on the side of the vehicle similar to ordering from a vending machine.


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Avrora Robotics, based outside of Moscow in Ryazan, Russia, specializes in developing autonomous vehicles for freight transport, industrial farming, and military use. And now, ice cream delivery.

Unfortunately, there's no mention of Baskin-Robbins bringing its driverless ice cream truck to other countries just yet, so we will have to content ourselves with chasing after human-driven ice cream trucks for a while still.

[h/t The Calvert Journal]

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