You’ve seen it before: someone in an air-conditioned office building, with a snowflake taped to their forehead, is explaining to the class how this snowflake is uniquely unique.
“How can you explain something that doesn’t have a name?” they ask. It’s an interesting question and one that scientists have been trying to answer for decades. Here is some of the history behind why no two snowflakes are exactly alike.
It all starts with air and temperature. When air temperatures are cold, water crystals form and then fall. On cold days when there is little or no air, these water droplets stick together and form into shapes much like snowflakes.
The snowflake above belongs to Eric Freiberg who noticed this phenomenon first thing in the spring of 2021. He took photographs of bunches of snow falling from the sky.
As he looked more closely at the images, he noticed that the shapes were unusual in that they had a repeating pattern. From this point on, he began studying the science behind snowflakes and found that it was the way that the snowflakes were made up that was different.
Basically, each snowflake is made up of millions of tiny grains of sand. The air temperature affects how these grains will cluster together and form a beautiful snowflake. But the way in which they pile up and become unique – that is what makes each snowflake unique. The same science is at work here, only on a much smaller scale.
The reason why there are so many different snow globules instead of just two is that each of these globules is made up of many different crystalline forms of matter. When they take the air into their tiny grains, they start to arrange themselves in a way that resembles a snowflake.
But because each of these crystalline forms is different in size and shape, when the air enters them and travels through them, there are two different sets of “walls” or “elements” that are present – one in front of the other, to give us the two-tone snowflake.
Kinds of Snowflakes
But the question still remains – why is it that there are so many different kinds of snowflakes? This can be answered quite simply actually. Because no two natural systems are perfectly similar to one another, no two snowflakes will ever be alike.
Air is constantly moving. As long as there are air masses floating around in the upper atmosphere, there will be constant movement in and out of those masses. Just think about it – if there is wind, there will be wind, if there is moisture, there will be moisture, and so on and so forth. Now, consider how the air moves as it travels over different types of medium.
When you take that same theory of continuous air movement and apply it to the motion of water, you end up with what we know as rain. Raindrops form as water droplets travel over different types of clouds.
Those droplets have different speeds and there is a constant flow of air over those droplets. If there was no heat source, no two snowflakes would form at the same time. The theory of the snowflake itself is based on this basic similarity.
When the air flows over different types of clouds, the temperature difference causes those globules to move. The bigger the cloud, the slower the air flow, and the slower the globule will move as it drifts from cloud to cloud.
Those smaller, closer to the base of the cloud, are pulled along by the warmer air underneath, which is flowing with the warmer air. Those globules then form into raindrops.
The question “Why do rain and snow fall?” can also be answered with this: the constant heat that is generated by the earth is necessary for the generation of those globules of water droplets. Without that heat source, none of those tiny globules would ever form.
The theories behind the different theories involved in this particular weather event are quite involved, but there are a few general observations that can be made. Generally, they do not appear to be related to human behavior or climate.
If you would like to learn more about the weather, or about the weather phenomena around us, you might like to explore the topic of understanding the science behind why no two snowflakes are alike.
Learning more about this phenomenon can help you understand how snow works, and why you should care when it does. If you have questions, you can visit your local library or search for online resources on this matter. There are many books available, and online videos as well.
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