Science Week: Snowflakes

Snowflakes are ubiquitous around the holidays – Kids like to play in them on snow days, adults hate shovelling them off their front walks and they are used to decorate store-front windows everywhere.

But have you ever wondered why each of these mini-marvels has 6-sides?

Each flake has it’s own unique design, but they all share a common hexagonal shape.

Snowflakes are essentially tiny ice crystals that form in the clouds on a cold winter day.  The water molecules arrange themselves in a particular way as they freeze, forming 6-sided shapes.  As the crystals grow, they develop in complexity, becoming the beautiful and delicate snowflakes we know and recognize.

Under colder conditions, flakes form intricate and “sharp” shapes – On warmer days, they grow more slowly, resulting in smoother designs.  The following are a few images of snowflakes taken with an electron microscope:

Think about this next time you’re clearing layers of snow off your car in the morning!


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