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What do snowflakes reveal about the universe?

What do snowflakes reveal about the universe?

How can something so small contain so much information about the universe? It seems hard to believe, but yes, a snowflake contains a huge amount of information about the universe and its secrets. It is formed when water vapor comes into contact with a speck of dust or pollen in the cloud at a very low temperature, so the vapor crystallizes and turns from the gaseous state to the solid state, forming ice crystals. As this flake attaches to more crystals, it becomes larger and heavier, and eventually falls toward the ground.

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The beauty of a snowflake’s symmetry

Photo by Darius Kotoy on Unsplash

Despite being made up of several water molecules that join the crust during their formation, snowflakes have radial symmetry, just like sea stars and certain types of flowers like tulips for example, but they can take different shapes.

The complex, symmetrical shape of snowflakes is a result of crystal growth patterns that occur during their formation in clouds.

According to BBC presenter and Professor. Brian Cox in the video What snowflakes tell us about our universe. What happens is that each water molecule (H2O) consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, and when they freeze, the angle between the hydrogen atoms is always 105°, and this is what makes the flake have a six-sided center.

As water molecules condense and crystallize around tiny dust particles in the atmosphere, they arrange themselves into symmetrical patterns due to intermolecular forces and specific bond angles between water molecules.

Although its center is always hexagonal, no snowflake is the same, and its size and shape depend on the temperature and humidity in which it is found, the path it takes during its journey through the clouds and when it falls toward the ground, and the amount of water molecules that accumulate in the snowflake. These snowflakes make the path and design of each one unique, so no two snowflakes are the same.

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If snowflakes are transparent, why is snow white?

Photo by Laura Lausch on Unsplash

Snowflakes are transparent because their internal structure consists of tiny ice crystals. These ice crystals have a refractive index very similar to the air around them. When light passes through these crystals, a phenomenon called light scattering occurs, where the light that falls on the snowflake is refracted and reflected in different directions due to its crystalline structure, making it appear white or transparent when observed individually.

Additionally, it is important to note that although individual snow crystals are clear, as snowflakes accumulate and consolidate, they can trap small air bubbles or other impurities, which can affect their transparency and color. However, in their purest, most individual form, snowflakes are transparent because of their crystalline structure and the way light interacts with them.

What do snowflakes reveal about the universe?

Although snowflakes are a terrestrial phenomenon, they can provide insight into global physical processes and patterns. Here are some ways snowflakes can reveal aspects of the universe:

  • Fractal patterns: Many snowflakes show fractal patterns in their shape, meaning they show structure that repeats at different levels. These fractal patterns are observed in many natural and cosmic systems, from galaxies to intergalactic systems, illustrating how the same mathematical and physical principles apply in different contexts.
  • Diversity and complexity: Snowflakes display incredible diversity and complexity in their shape and structure, even though they are mainly composed of frozen water. This diversity may reflect the complexity of the physical and chemical processes that occur in natural systems, including the formation of stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.
  • Symmetry and shape: The consistency and shape of snowflakes are affected by factors such as temperature, humidity, and crystal growth patterns. These same factors can affect the shape and structure of cosmic objects, such as ice crystals in interstellar clouds, asteroids and comets.
  • Star formation processes: Snowflake formation on Earth can provide insight into star formation processes occurring in interstellar clouds in space. Understanding the physical and chemical processes that lead to the formation of snowflakes can help scientists better understand how stars and planetary systems form and evolve over time.
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Although snowflakes are terrestrial phenomena, they can provide useful analogies and insights into global processes and patterns that occur on much larger scales in the universe. Studying them could help scientists better understand the basic principles that govern the universe.

source: What do snowflakes tell us about our universe?