Snowflakes bring to mind the wonders of winter. Drifting flakes to fall on the tongue. A beautiful crystal shape floating on the wind, but what are they and how are they formed.
What is a snowflake?
Snowflakes are defined as “one of the small, which snow falls” by dictionary.com. Snowflakes are not frozen raindrops. A snowflake is a delicate crystal that forms around a seed crystal. The seed needs to form on a tiny, tiny particle of dust. Inside the cloud, water vapor condenses and freezes onto the seed. The crystal form and grows larger as more and more water molecules attach themselves to the flake. Individual water molecules combine to form the snowflake-not raindrops.
How is the shape formed?
The image of a snowflake as a six armed star shape is based on the shape and bonding found in the water molecule. The water molecules bond together to form a hexagon (honeycomb). Therefore, the six sided shape of a snowflake comes from the linking of the water molecules. The feathery arms of the snowflake are places where the water molecules attached and grew. The water attaches to rough places on the original hexagon growing outward from the ice seed.
The different forms of a snowflake depend on the temperature of the air and the amount of moisture in it. Different shapes are created at different temperatures. Air needs to be super cold to form snow. The snowflakes begin to form when the air temperature in the cloud reaches 14 F
The shape of the snowflake is dependent upon the temperature of the air:
32-25° F - Thin hexagonal plates
25-21° F - Needles
21-14° F - Hollow columns
14-10° F - Sector plates (hexagons with indentations)
10-3° F - Dendrites (lacy hexagonal shapes)
Why are no two snowflakes alike?
Snowflakes grow from six points on the ice seed. They grow randomly and are really not symmetrical. Each arm of the snowflake is different. You can look at this yourself because so snowflakes are large enough to examine with a magnifying glass. Sizes range from
It has to do with math and probability. The way the molecules of water attach to form a snowflake is like picking an outfit from your closet. For example, you have three pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and five shirts. You can make thirty different and unique outfits. For a snowflake, there are 100 different spots to add a water molecule. Therefore, there are over 10158 ways to create the crystal shape of a snowflake. That means the odds of finding two snowflakes that formed in exactly the same way is very, very small.