On November 30th, 2018

The Science of Snowflakes

Snowflakes: just hearing the word reminds you of winter and the joyous holidays associated. These little works of art are made from ice and fall from the sky one by one until the land beneath it is blanketed with the substance.

If you were to ever look at a picture of a snowflake online or under a microscope, you will be able to see the beautiful design that makes up that specific snowflake. The design you may be looking at is something you may never get to see again because each snowflake is unique and there are no others like it. What you may not know when looking at these snowflakes is why they are this way.

The Science Behind Snowflakes:
A snowflake starts off as a tiny piece of pollen, dust, or dirt in the air during cold temperatures. After the particle is in the air, an extremely cold water droplet attaches onto the particle, causing it to have a frozen coating.

Over time, this coating turns into an ice crystal, and as it falls, more and more water vapor attaches to the ice crystal. Those droplets of water vapor act as the arms, or the branch-like you see when looking at a snowflake. The reason each arm is exactly the same shape is that the water vapor reflects the order of the ice crystal's molecules.

Why No Snowflake is Alike:
If you were to look at 5, 50, or 100 snowflakes, none of them would be similar, and that is because a snowflake greatly depends on many important conditions. Some conditions could be the temperature or the amount of moisture that is in the air.

If you were to look at a snowflake that was made in different environments with different temperatures, you would be able to see that as the temperature gets colder, the design of the snowflake is less intricate, meaning that the "branches" are thicker than if it were warmer out. If you were to look at two different snowflakes in separate environments with different amounts of moisture in the air, you would also be able to that when the air has less moisture, there are less "branches" that go off of the previous ones.

The History of How Snowflakes Came to Be:
Snowflakes have obviously been around since the beginning of time, but in 1885, snowflakes were first photographed. This is thanks to Wilson Bentley and his innovative curiosity. Wilson Bentley was born in 1865 in Vermont, which is a location where there is a lot of yearly snowfall.

Snowflakes could be seen through magnifying glasses, but could never be preserved, or kept for a long period of time. This is because of the cameras back then, which used heat to use the modern equivalent of flash to take pictures. Because of this heat, snowflakes often melted, resulting in someone taking a picture of a puddle. Wilson Bentley thought creatively and connected a microscope to a camera and then took pictures of snowflakes, taking much of the heat away from the object being photographed. That is the main reason you can see pictures of snowflakes today.

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