February 27, 2015

Scrolling Headlines:

Report: UMass continues search for new athletic director, DeFilippo not an option -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

UPDATE: Police to charge UMass football player with two counts of aggravated assault and battery -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Students for Justice in Palestine, administration react to inflammatory posters -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

UMass falls short, lacks energy in 82-71 loss to Saint Joseph’s -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Drake’s surprise mixtape yields few surprises -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Potential shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security offers chance for Republican legislature to learn from its mistakes -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jose Gonzalez returns with graceful “Vestiges & Claws” -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Winless UMass faces Brown -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

SGA to host Women’s Leadership Symposium -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

UMass women’s basketball finishes road schedule with matchup against Dayton -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Keystone XL pipeline sparks pollution awareness -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dartmouth and Fordham to start stretch of key games for Minutewomen -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

DeAndre Bembry has career day in win over UMass -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Discussion on Palestine incorporates history as well as recent posters targeting SJP -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

UMass set for season finale in Connecticut -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Imagine Dragons deliver nothing but “Smoke & Mirrors” on their second album. -

Thursday, February 26, 2015

UMass student files federal civil rights lawsuit against Amherst police officers after ‘Blarney’ arrest -

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

SGA spring elections campaigns kick off -

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

UMass must contain Bembry in rematch with St. Joe’s -

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chaz Williams returns from his stint overseas, signs contract with Maine Red Claws -

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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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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