7 cool facts about snowflakes

By Mary Daly
January 04, 2019, 1:28:27 PM EST

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You catch them on your tongue. You grumble about shoveling when they cover your driveway. Snowflakes are one of nature’s most interesting creations, thanks to their intricate patterns and ability to completely change a landscape. And there’s much more to them than what meets the eye. Here are seven cool facts you might not know about snowflakes.

1. Snowflakes aren’t really white

Technically speaking, that blanket of white is actually clear. Because snow is composed of translucent ice crystals, it reflects most of the light that touches its surface. This gives it a bright, white appearance to our eyes. And depending on the environment, it also might take on some other hues. For instance, deep snow can have a blue cast as red light gets trapped and absorbed more readily. And some snow can appear pink due to algae growing in it.

2. Snow is technically a mineral

Snow can be classified as a mineral, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. “A mineral is a naturally occurring homogeneous solid, inorganically formed, with a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement,” the center says. Snow is composed of ice crystals, and ice meets those criteria. It’s naturally occurring (not made by humans — freezers don’t count), a single material, formed inorganically (not by an organism) and has an ordered structure. And most of us know its chemical structure: H2O.

3. All snowflakes (probably) are unique

Atmospheric conditions determine a snowflake’s basic shape. “A snowflake begins to form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky. This creates an ice crystal,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals — the six arms of the snowflake.” The various temperatures and humidities that a single crystal experiences as it falls control its formation. So even though some snowflakes might appear the same on the surface, it would be incredibly rare for them to take exactly the same route from the sky and be identical on a molecular level.

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