March 28, 2015

Scrolling Headlines:

Closing arguments presented, jury deliberations begin Friday in first of four 2012 gang rape trials -

Friday, March 27, 2015

UMass library opens groundbreaking 3D printing lab -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Defendant in 2012 gang rape case says accuser consented to sex -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

For the love of the craft: UMass Juggling Club -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UMass lacrosse looks for fourth straight victory versus Towson -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The dark, twisty special on Robert Durst proves that, yet again, humanity’s biggest “Jinx” is hubris -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Law and order, UMass style -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hillel fails to represent all Jewish students -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UMass women’s lacrosse aims another perfect conference record against Duquesne -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UMass heads home to take on Albany -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Coming off weekend victory, UMass softball prepares for series against St. Josephs -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

‘The Last Man on Earth?’ more like, ‘The Worst Show on Earth’ -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A new face for money -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UMass hopes to carry momentum into weekend series against VCU -

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UMass Theatre Guild to present “Seussical” this weekend -

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

UMass eyes the future of its athletics with the hiring of Athletic Director Ryan Bamford -

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Derrick Gordon to transfer from UMass in search of more prominent role -

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Local author and activist Don Ogden writes to make environmental change -

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chiarelli: Football the center of attention Tuesday at Bamford’s hiring -

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

MANNA soup kitchen continues to feed the local hungry in Northampton -

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

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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