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Miraculous rock in Saudi Arabia boggles minds

Geologists struggle to explain the perfect central fissure
Published 23 Jul, 2022 03:08pm
<p>Al Naslaa Rock Formation. Photo: Big Think</p>

Al Naslaa Rock Formation. Photo: Big Think

The Al Naslaa rock formation, located in Saudi Arabia, possesses the most bizarre geological features. The uniform vertical split in its middle has remained a huge mystery for scientists, while its unstable formation seems to defy gravity.

The Al-Naslaa rock formation is made up of high-density sedimentary rock. It consists of two 20ft high boulders, both of which rest atop a thin pedestal.

Al Naslaa rock formation. Photo: YouTube/OnPointTV
Al Naslaa rock formation. Photo: YouTube/OnPointTV

While the rock shows signs of weathering and erosion, the petroglyphs or rock carvings on it are up to 4000 years old, making it an important archaeological object.

Perfect central fissure in Al Naslaa. Photo: Big Think
Perfect central fissure in Al Naslaa. Photo: Big Think

The perfect vertical split in the middle of the rock is a huge source of interest for geologists. Researchers have been unable to find the exact explanation for the central fissure but other, similar rocks provide relevant clues.

Let’s take a look at the “Balanced Rock” in the USA.

Balanced Rock. Photo: Thomas Wolf/Big Think
Balanced Rock. Photo: Thomas Wolf/Big Think

The iconic boulder at the top is balanced by a thin pedestal of rock, seemingly defying gravity. In truth, just like Al Naslaa, this rock is likely to collapse in the future.

Unstable equilibriums in rock formations are created through erosion by wind, sand, rain, and other sources of water. These erode different layers of rock at different rates, and can even cause horizontal and vertical fissures across the rock.

Another rock with such features is Egypt’s “White Desert”:

White Desert. Photo: Michael Hoefner/Big Think
White Desert. Photo: Michael Hoefner/Big Think

This rock has taken on a mushroom-like structure, with its upper boulder resting atop a thin layer of rock.

“Al Farafrah” shows similar features: its upper boulder rests atop a thin, weathered spire of rock.

Al-Farafrah. Photo: L-BBE/Big Think
Al-Farafrah. Photo: L-BBE/Big Think

A more exact match, however, perhaps is New Zealand’s “Split Apple Rock”. Aptly named, this rock resembles two perfectly-split slices of apple.

Split Apple Rock. Photo: Flickr
Split Apple Rock. Photo: Flickr

The fissure in “Split Apple Rock” has been explained through a naturally occurring joint. Joints are natural planes of weakness in granite structures. Since the joints are already vulnerable, water-based weathering can easily cleave the formation apart, sometimes with admirable precision.

On the other hand, the backside of Al Naslaa shows a parallel crack next to the main fissure.

Backside of Al Naslaa. Photo: Instagram/3rdeyegem
Backside of Al Naslaa. Photo: Instagram/3rdeyegem

This crack provides a potential clue about the origin of the fissure. In fact, there are many horizontal cracks on both boulders that don’t align with each other, suggesting that erosion happened after the fissure, which could then have been a result of faulting.

Earthquakes and faultlines are also known to create fissures in rocks.

Tourist standing next to al Naslaa. Photo: Big Think
Tourist standing next to al Naslaa. Photo: Big Think

The mysterious rock formation remains a great source of interest for tourists, geologists, and archeologists alive. It has also been subject to conspiracies in the past.

While it’s a spectacular site, geologists predict that the rock formation will collapse soon due to its unstable equilibrium.

Saudia Arabia

سائنس

Saudi Arab

geology

rock formation

al Naslaa rock

Al Naslaa

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