As winter approaches, humans around the world look forward to, or don’t look forward to, the falling of trillions of snowflakes. And, while we watch them fall from the skies, we sometimes try to focus on one before it melts or joins the billions of other snowflakes on the ground.

Bentley_Snowflake8Just how a snowflake forms and how it is made is fascinating!

First of all, as can be expected, snow crystals form in clouds where you have water vapor and freezing temperatures. These crystals, while freezing together and forming, almost microscopically, communicate not a single thing with each other. Not a single gene is telling them to connect here or do this. Nothing. How do they form so beautifully then like the one to your right?

Well, when a water molecule gets to the freezing point and beyond the slight electrical pulse it once had, suddenly heightens and, as it falls through the clouds and air, more water atoms join to the original snowflake to make a hexagon. As more molecules continue to connect to the first ones, the hexagon shapes bind together and form beautiful arrangements. Just how they can be so symmetrical and balanced stumps scientists continually, the only explanation is that God has designed each and every one.

Just imagine the attention in one snowflake. Such detail so small that we can not even see it with the highest microscope you could find (you need a special way to see atoms) and yet millions of these tiny details make one snowflake. One snowflake of trillions that fall each snowstorm around the world! It is almost too much to comprehend.

An average snowflake contains 1,384,615,384,615,384,615,384 atoms. So, that means 923,076,923,076,923,076,922 of those atoms are hydrogen atoms. That also means the remaining 461,538,461,538,461,538,461 atoms are oxygen atoms. To make a water molecule, you need two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. When these three connect and form the snowflake you have a total of 461,538,461,538,461,538,461 water molecules.

That means you have 461 quintillion water molecules in one single snowflake (461 quintillion cents would be enough money to buy 92+ trillion 50,000 dollar cars). Just imagine the work that was to be put into one single snowflake to make it so beautiful. Wait, let’s not imagine, let’s see.

OK, you have atom number 1,000,001. This atom is an oxygen atom and it has a weak negative charge. Soon, two hydrogen atoms (#120 and #5,000,122), with their own little positive charges get attracted to the negatively charged oxygen atom. When they meet together they form a water molecule, but it is not a hydrogen bond yet. That step is next.all

When the temperature around a water molecule starts to freeze, the hydrogen atoms attract the oxygen atom. The oxygen atom attracts to the hydrogen atoms and they begin to bond together, creating a hydrogen bond.

When more water molecules bond together, as can be seen by the picture to the left, they form a hexagon. Why a hexagon?

A hexagon is the perfect shape for the water’s crystalline structure because the hexagons themselves can bond together and form beautiful shapes and they can easily make many shapes that are symmetrical.

The following are some designs made out of simple hexagons.

snowflake_hexagon_diagram

art_flake

Thanks to the Severe Weather Team Blog and their research, with a little mathematical translation from yours truly, they say there are: 259,061,575 snowflakes in one square inch of snow. That means, if you have an average storm dropping three inches of snow over an area covering 200 miles in just 3 hours. There would have to be nearly 9,848,484,835,200,000 snowflakes being made each second and landing on the ground.

Translated:

1,363,636,361,796,923,076,922,470,862,471,700,000 atoms would have to be snowflake3combining to form water molecules and then combine to form hexagons of six total atoms so they can combine and form snowflakes. All that would have to happen in one second without any communication between water molecules or droplets. Every single one would have to be crafted uniquely at a pace of almost 10 quadrillion (for snowflake that is, atoms per second . . . I don’t want to even go there) a second for three hours. And, that is just for one snowstorm.

Snowflakes are amazing, complex and beautiful structures that humans have only been observing for the last several decades. Wilson Bentley, the man who first truly studied snowflakes said:

The ‘wonders of God’s handiwork are to be found in the tiniest details of all He has made. One powerful example of this beauty is the intricate design of a snow crystal. Anyone who’s seen snowflakes under a microscope cannot help but be amazed by how beautifully complex they are….’

As he observes from the 5,000 photographs of snow crystals he collected, “Under the microscope I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty.’1

______________________________________________________________________________

Sources:

1 Bergman, J. 2011. Snowflake Bentley: Man of Science, Man of God. Acts & Facts. 40 (12): 12-14.

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