Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
How do Snowflakes form?
The snowflake is a uniquely beautiful structure created from water.
How do snowflakes form? Compare one snowflake with another. No two snowflakes are identical yet all snowflakes are created from the same simple compound that is water. Two hydrogen atoms combining with one oxygen. How then is it possible that they are all different?
‘How full of the creative genius is the air in which these are generated! I should hardly admire more if real stars fell and lodged in my coat’
Henry David Thoreau 1856
How do snowflakes form?
Snowflakes are really snow crystals which as they fall through the air stick together to form snowflakes but we call the individual crystals snowflakes as well. For a snow crystal to form water vapour has to turn straight into ice missing out the liquid water phase. As more water vapour condenses on the crystal so it grows and forms a more complex pattern. The snowflake has six points and that is because of how the water molecules arrange themselves in hexagon structures. In simple terms each crystal starts out as a hexagonal plate that then grows arms as the crystal grows. The shape it makes it dependent upon the environmental conditions in which the crystal is forming. Each set of conditions will be unique and that is why snowflakes are unique.
Does every snowflake have perfect symmetry or not?
Few of us get to really see the beauty of the snowflake as it falls to earth. If we rush to gather them up they usually melt too fast in our hands and are lost. We rely on wonderful pictures taken under magnification to see the beauty and symmetry in each flake. But does each snowflake have perfect symmetry or not?
Physicist Kenneth Libbrecht tells us that is not the case at all. He is an expert in the science of snowflakes and a collector of them. His work has shown him that most snowflakes are not symmetrical or even close to symmetrical. However those that are are so attractive they are the ones that get photographed and published.
The world of the snowflake is completely beautiful and completely absorbing. Here in Britain in modern times we don’t see a huge amount of snowfall but still it is estimated that every second a million billion snowflakes fall on planet Earth. Such enormous numbers are difficult to contemplate. Take that thought a step further though and consider that each of these snowflakes has a unique shape.
Catching and Observing Snowflakes.
If you are lucky enough to have some snowfall this year (not too much), then get ready to catch some snowflakes. Grab some black card and catch some flakes on it, take care not to touch them. The heat from your hands will melt the snow. Use a magnifying glass to observe them. Then can be caught on a glass slide but the slide needs to be prepared first. Spray the slide with hairspray and catch a snowflake on the sticky side. Put the slide somewhere cold, the hairspray will dry and the water will disappear. Then you can study your snowflake imprint.
Before I melt,
Come, look at me!
This lovely icy filigree!
Of a great forest
In one night
I make a wilderness
By skyey cold
Of crystals made,
All softly, on
Your finger laid,
I pause, that you
My beauty see:
Breathe; and I vanish
Walter de la Mare
Following on from our Red Robin and you might like to take a look at our Advent Calendar and participate on our Honey Bee Barn Instagram or Facebook Pages for free Giveaways during December, in the spirit of the season.