Snowflakes

While snowflakes may have different designs, they always have how many sides?

And the answer: six sides.  

Photo courtesy: kichigin/Shutterstock

Every snowflake has six main sides or points. This is due to ice crystals joining to one another in the shape of a hexagon. According to the UK Office of Meteorology, this arrangement "allows water molecules – each with one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms – to form together in the most efficient way."

Every plate, branch, and needle that form the outline of a snowflake contribute to what's known as the emergent properties of that given snowflake. All of these details create complexity based on very simple rules – rules that go back to the basic laws of physics.

In the air, or in liquid, water molecules are zipping around and bouncing off of each other trillions of times per second. We have no way of knowing where these molecules are, or which way they're facing, at any given moment. As heat is removed, these molecules slow down until the hydrogen bonds between molecules settle down and into order. This is known as freezing. As freezing occurs to water vapor, it forms the unique structure of a snowflake.

The structure of a snowflake can be found in as few as six water molecules. Beginning as a tiny speck of dust or pollen, the snowflake catches water vapor out of the air and forms its most basic shape: a tiny hexagon called "diamond dust." Then, randomness takes over. More and more water molecules land on the flake until it forms the intricate snowflake shape we know and love. Factors such as temperature and humidity can affect the qualities of the flake, but its individual structure is randomly constructed by chance (and a touch of physics).

What do you think? Could a snowflake ever find its identical twin? Check out the video below to learn more.


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