Snowflakes are easily one of the coolest natural phenomena produced by our planet’s natural climates. As a person who lives in a place where it snows regularly, and who loves to ski, Winter is one of my favorite seasons. Not only does snow make almost every landscape incredibly beautiful, but the cold weather is often a welcome change after a hot summer.
If you’ve ever looked closely at a snowflake, you might have noticed that it has six sides and is more or less symmetrical. It’s no coincidence that all the snowflakes you’ve ever looked at have six sides--it’s by design. Well, nature’s design.
Not only is every snowflake unique, but they grow and crystallize in a manner that dictates they have six equal sides every single time. Which can be hard to imagine considering most naturally occurring things are so spontaneously designed and rarely symmetrical.
The magic lies in the shape of the water molecules themselves and how they utilize hydrogen bonds to come together.
Many people describe water molecules as looking like Mickey Mouse ears because they have an oxygen atom in the center with two hydrogen atoms connected above like ears. In fact, these hydrogen atom “ears” bond with the oxygen atom specifically at an angle of 104.4 degrees. So, as more and more water molecules slowly bind together as they freeze, they arrange themselves according to that 104.4 degree angle.
The oxygen side of the molecule has a slightly negative charge because the electrons in the molecule spend their time around the largest atom. This leaves the hydrogen side of the molecule with a positive charge. While these charges are somewhat weak, they still have an influence over how molecules bind together, due to the attraction of opposite charges.
So, each snowflake ever created has grown and crystallized in the sky, slowly attaching molecule by molecule in a specific pattern dictated by its charge and the 104.4 degree angle of each water molecule.
Pretty crazy, right?
Check out these "designer" snowflakes produced by Caltech researchers here!