October 20, 2014

Scrolling Headlines:

UMass student charged in connection with alleged involvement in racist vandalisms -

Monday, October 20, 2014

BREAKING: Police investigating death of 21-year-old female in McNamara Hall -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Protect Our Breasts runs Breast Cancer Awareness campaign -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Underclassmen lead UMass hockey to first victory of the season -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Super Smash Bros. 3DS: A classic revitalized -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dear Chancellor: Improve the FAC -

Monday, October 20, 2014

UMass women’s soccer shut out by Rhode Island -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Students at UMass rally to show support for Hong Kong -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Duolingo makes learning a language easier -

Monday, October 20, 2014

UMass men’s swimming and diving falls to Army; women’s team gets revenge -

Monday, October 20, 2014

UMass field hockey gets back to .500 with win over BU Sunday -

Monday, October 20, 2014

‘Columbus Day’ demonstrates ignorant view of the past -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Students for Justice in Palestine aims to spread awareness, not argue -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mending fences: SGA and Amherst officials work together to improve town/gown relations -

Monday, October 20, 2014

UMass men’s soccer drops 5-0 decision to Saint Louis -

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Phablet continues to grow and maintain popularity -

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dayton Flyers soar at Rudd Field, 4-1 over the Minutemen -

Sunday, October 19, 2014

UMass football’s Sharpe continues his banner season in 36-14 win over Eastern Michigan -

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Shadrach Abrokwah has career day in UMass football’s 36-14 win over Eastern Michigan. -

Saturday, October 18, 2014

UMass tops Eastern Michigan 36-14, puts together first FBS winning streak -

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The science of snowflakes

Courtesy of University of California Davis

“No two snowflakes are alike.” 

That’s an old adage, quite common in weather lore when the unique nature of a snowflake is described, and I’m sure you’ve heard it at least once in your life. However, this rule of thumb is only right to a point: snowflakes can indeed look exactly alike, only differing in the abundance of certain isotopes or the number of water molecules, thus making them technically not identical. When I read this, my childhood notions regarding the magic that was snow melted like Frosty during spring thaw. Yet, despite this elimination of wonder, the science behind the fascinating patterns that make up the structures of snowflakes infused a strange beauty back into them.

One of the biggest proponents to the formation of a snowflake is clouds. There are high, middle, and low clouds, and each shapes its water vapor differently. High clouds normally produce “six-sided hexagonal crystals,” according to Anne Marie Helmenstine, PhD.  In the middle clouds, flatter six-sided crystals and needles are made. Last are the lower clouds where random assortments of six-sided shapes are generated. Temperature affects these shapes by making them more or less detailed to the human eye. Naturally, it’s the higher temperatures that make the snowflakes harder to form, thus the shapes are smoother without as much structural design. In general, the temperatures also yield specific patterns of snowflakes. The warmer ends of freezing (25-32 degrees Fahrenheit) produce the flimsy hexagonal structures. When the temperatures cool down, the shapes progress from the weak hexagons to needles, then hollow columns, sector plates, and dendrites. The latter shape is the most detailed to observe, but we have to wait for temperatures as low as ten degrees Fahrenheit to begin seeing them.

When observing a snowflake, the aesthetic qualities of their structure strike the human eye quite dramatically. One of the reasons is because a snowflake, for the most part, is symmetrical. In general, this is a result of the water molecules arranging themselves in an order that suits them best when they are in a solid state as opposed to a liquid one. This arrangement is based off the hydrogen bonds between these molecules. In the process of making these bonds, the water molecules try to get rid of as many “repulsive forces” as possible, and make as many “attractive forces” in return, according to About.com. The delicate balance they create results in the shapes that were being formed in the water vapor.

Surprisingly enough, snowflakes are not just water vapor.  They contain dirt particles too. As they form, dirt and dust particles make their way into the structure and become an integral part of the weight of the snowflake as well as provide it with durability, states Dr. Helmenstine. So, the next time you open your mouth to catch a snowflake on your tongue, think about that!

Eliza Mitchell can be reached for comment at elizam@student.umass.edu

Comments
One Response to “The science of snowflakes”
  1. ceilea says:

    wow i love snow it is fun

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