When most people think about snowflakes they typically think about the white stuff falling from the sky in the winter or the beautiful patterns of individual snowflakes. But what exactly are snowflakes? Some people think that snowflakes are frozen rain, but this isn’t exactly true. How do they form? Is it true that no two snowflakes are exactly alike? You may be surprised at some of the facts about snowflakes.
First thing to realize is that the term snowflake is a generic term. Snowflakes can actually be a single snow crystal or a group of snow crystals. What people typically see in snow fall is a group of snow crystals making a single snowflake.
There is an interesting process to how snowflakes form. Basically, when water molecules collect on small dust particles in the air, these dust particles rise carrying moisture. When the dust particles carrying the water molecules collect together, they form clouds. Some of the water droplets freeze into tiny particles of ice. These tiny particles of ice are like the nucleus, or foundation, on which snow crystals can form and grow.
An interesting fact to think about is where some of the water vapor comes from to form water molecules on dust particles. Have you ever stuck your tongue out to try to catch snowflakes falling from the sky? You might want to think about where the snowflakes may have originated before sticking your tongue out. An individual person will release about two cups of water vapor a day as they breathe. Some of moisture that is exhaled rises to the clouds and some of it helps in the production of snow crystals. So not only can you help in making a snow crystal but so can everyone else.
Since snowflakes are formed from ice particles, they have the same basic chemical make up as water. Ice is just water in its solid form, therefore two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom is always present. However, when snowflakes form, these atoms are stacked together as the water freezes to form a lattice. Because of the atomical structure, snow crystals are formed with hexagonal symmetry. This means each snow crystals have six basic sides that branch off.
There are over fifteen distinct types of snowflakes that are commonly found falling to the ground. Some of these include hollow columns, simple prisms, needles, capped columns, bullet rosettes, rimmed crystals, triangular crystals, along with double plates and split plates. However, the types of snowflakes most people are familiar with are sector plates, 12-sided snowflakes, stellar plates, and stellar dendrites, including the fern-like stellar dendrites and radiating dendrites. These are the types of snowflakes that inspire paper snowflakes.
Most everyone has heard the statement that no two snowflakes are alike, but is there any truth behind it? Yes and no. Even before a snow crystal begins its fall it can follow a variety of paths. It can go through a variety of areas in the cloud and atmosphere that have different humidity and temperatures. This is going to play a key role in the shape of the snowflake.
Low humidity creates snow crystals that have simple shapes, such as cones and columns. However, high humidity tends to create more complex shapes and patterns. The final shape of a snowflake is determined on what path it took when it was forming as a snow crystal.
The chances that two snow crystals followed the same exact path are slim to none, but not entirely impossible. Because the odds are low of following the same path, many scientists theorized that no two snowflakes were alike. However, it is plausible that two snowflakes can be exactly alike. It isn’t scientifically impossible, just not as likely to occur.