A Snowflake’s Life: How Snowflakes Get Their Shape

A Snowflakes Life

A Snowflake’s Life, photo by Shawn Malone/Lake Superior Photo

“Lives are snowflakes – unique in detail, forming patterns we have seen before, but as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There’s not a chance you’d mistake one for another, after a minute’s close inspection.)”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

One of my favorite websites is EarthSky, and they explain how snowflakes get their shape:

The shape of snowflakes is influenced by the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere. Snowflakes form in the atmosphere when cold water droplets freeze onto dust particles. Depending on the temperature and humidity of the air where the snowflakes form, the resulting ice crystals will grow into a myriad of different shapes.

…Kenneth Libbrecht, Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, has made extensive observations of how water molecules get incorporated into snow crystals. In his research, he has observed that the most intricate snowflake patterns are formed when there is moisture in the air. Snowflakes produced in drier conditions tend to have simpler shapes.

Temperature also has a large effect on the formation of snowflakes according to Libbrecht’s research. Snowflakes formed in temperatures below – 22 degrees Celsius (- 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit) consist primarily of simple crystal plates and columns whereas snowflakes with extensive branching patterns are formed in warmer temperatures.

Bottom line: Temperature and humidity influence snowflake formation. The most intricate snowflake patterns are typically formed during warm and wet conditions.

Read on for more including some links & photos!

Shawn writes that she can totally relate to this snowflake’s imperfect life. View it background big on Facebook, check out more including a kickin’ video of the Northern Lights at the Mackinac Bridge on her Lake Superior Photo page, and view and purchase photos from LakeSuperiorPhoto.com.

More winter wallpaper and more snow on Michigan in Pictures.

PS: Congrats to Shawn for passing 200,000 subscribers on her Facebook page – wowzas!!

PPS: Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods is an incredible work of modern day fantasy.