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5 Frosty Facts About Snowflakes

December 9, 2015
Posted By: TELUS Spark

'Tis the season for snow! Every snowflake that’s ever fallen on the planet is formed by cold water freezing around particles of dust or pollen. As the snowflake drifts through the air, vapor freezes onto that first ice crystal and forms a bigger, six-armed crystal. The science behind these tiny beauties is as amazing as they look. Here are a few of our favourite things about snowflakes.

1. Guinness World Records lists the largest snowflake as 15 inches wide.

Claiming to have happened during a storm in January 1887 in Fort Keogh, Montana, Guinness World Records says snowflakes were falling that were 15 inches wide. That’s wider than a pancake, wider than a Frisbee and even wider than a standard frying pan.

2. Someone counted the number of snowflakes to have ever fallen on the planet.

Okay, so they didn’t actually count every single one, but it has been estimated and the number is 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. That’s 300 sextillion or 300 undecillion (depending on which scale you use) – or roughly as many stars estimated to be in the entire universe. The number was calculated using smaller numbers of snowflakes that fall within a given volume. To read about the math behind it, check out Cool Science.

3. You can stay warm in an igloo – even when it’s -45° C outside.

That’s right – if you get enough of those little guys together, snowflakes are capable of keeping you warm on a very cold night. Once an igloo is built, the internal temperature can vary as much as 23° C: from -7° C to 16° C when it’s -45° C outside! Now that’s impressive. Read more about it here.

4. The first photograph of a snowflake was taken in 1885.

In Jericho, Vermont on January 15, 1885 Wilson Bentley took the first known photograph of a snowflake. Why is this impressive? It turns out that it was quite the feat to keep the snowflake from melting long enough to snap a photo given the technology at the time. He went on to capture thousands of photos of snowflakes – including the photo at the top of this blog post (courtesy of the Jericho Historical Society).

5. You can make your own 3D snowflake at home.

We’ve all taken a folded up piece of paper and cut holes in it to create a snowflake. Take it a step further and create your very own 3D snowflake at home!

 

To discover the science behind the season visit TELUS Spark and build your own snowflake in our Earth and Sky gallery. If you have more curiosity about how snowflakes work, check out this video: