January 28, 2015

Scrolling Headlines:

BLOG: New York Jets name Marcel Shipp new running backs coach -

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A bond over basketball: Trey Davis and Zach Coleman’s friendship continues to grow at UMass -

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Inside the Park with Marky Mark: January 27, 2015 -

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Panda Bear remains confident, even in the face of ‘The Grim Reaper’ -

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Why I want to be a teacher -

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Men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams wrap up third-place finishes at Dartmouth Invitational -

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UMass’ College of Education to train Pakistani higher education administrators -

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Hao Luong shines for UMass men’s swimming and diving on Senior Day, prepares for end of college career -

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Police Log: Friday, Jan. 23, 2015 to Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 -

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Rachel Hilliard, Heather MacLean highlight solid performance from UMass women’s track and field -

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Hockey East: Eichel’s overtime goal pushes Boston University past Vermont -

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Albums to look forward to in 2015 -

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UMass closes ahead of inclement weather -

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Paranormal Research Society seeks to uncover the truth about the supernatural -

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UMass tops Merrimack 4-1 to cap off successful weekend series -

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‘Broad City’s’ second season off to a wickedly funny start -

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Writers respond to State of the Union address -

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St. Bonaventure earns tight victory, VCU clinches 11th straight win in Atlantic 10 men’s basketball action -

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An open letter to the people who were kind when I was struggling -

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UMass club hockey salvages weekend with tie against NYU on Saturday -

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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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