• Sara Thompson

Snowflakes: No Two Are Alike

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Snowflake on a thin strand of spider web
A snowflake dangling on a spider web in Poland; Photo credit: Adrian Tync from Wikimedia Commons

Most people have learned that snowflakes are frozen water droplets that fall in places that have temperatures below freezing. Although that description is true, snowflakes go through a much more detailed process to become the beautiful crystals we know. One of the first people to photograph snowflakes is Wilson Bentley in 1885 and continued to do so for the rest of his life. His photographs showed that not only do snowflakes all have six points and are symmetrical, but no two are completely alike.


The air gets cooler the higher up in the atmosphere you get. When a cloud, which is made up evaporated water, becomes over saturated the water will begin to fall. In warm weather it will be rain, but when the temperature is cool enough snow will form. Snowflake formation, however, is more than just falling, frozen water. Snowflakes begin when water vapor begins to crystallize around a particle in the air such as dust or pollen. Because of the shape of the water molecules, the crystal shape, called a facet, will take a 6-sided, hexagonal shape. After the nucleus has formed, more water vapor will crystallize at the points of the facet, making the long, thin branches we all recognize.


This is the basic recipe for forming a snowflake. But the reason why no two snowflakes are the same are because of the conditions in which each of the parts form. Even though a facet will always be 6-sided, the shape of the branches depend on the temperature and the humidity of the air the flake is falling through. As the air changes so do the branches. Some will develop more facets with smaller branches, or just have one set of branches. Some branches are plate-like, while others look like small trees. Each snowflake will experience a different condition while it forms causing no two to ever be alike. Some will be very similar, but never exactly alike.


There is a fun and sparkly way to make snowflakes at home. All you will need is some paper, glue from a bottle (not a glue stick), and salt. Lay your paper on a counter or table and make a snowflake shape with your glue. You can find a template online if you like, but you can make your own, just remember to make it six sided and symmetrical. Before the glue dries, sprinkle salt on the paper and glue. The salt will stick to the glue and harden with it. When it dries you will have a sparkly snowflake. Optionally, you can color the salt blue or another color to make your snowflake colorful.


 

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• Explorit is open to the public on Fridays from 1-4pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-2pm. Admission is $5 per person. Explorit Members, ASTC, and those age 2 and under free.


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