You may have heard that no two snowflakes are exactly alike. That isn’t totally true, although the chance of finding twin snowflakes is very, very unlikely.

Scientists estimate the chances of two snowflakes being exactly alike are about 1 in 1 million trillion (that’s a 1 followed by 18 zeros). Meteorologists think that there are 1 trillion, trillion, trillion (a 1 with 36 zeros!) different types of snowflakes.

A snowflake has three basic ingredients: ice crystals, water vapor and dust. The ice crystals form as water vapor freezes on a bit of microscopic dust.

The dust particles can come from many different places, including flower pollen, volcanic ash and even celestial bodies such as meteors.

Snow forms in very cold clouds containing water droplets and ice crystals. As water droplets attach themselves to ice crystals, they freeze, creating an even larger ice crystal.

In any crystal, little bits called molecules line up in a pattern. In ice crystals, water molecules line up and form a six-sided shape called a “hexagon.” This is why all snowflakes are six-sided.

The temperature of the cloud it forms in determines the shape of an ice crystal. Likewise, the amount of moisture in the cloud determines the size of the ice crystal.

More moisture will create a bigger crystal. When several ice crystals stick together, they form a snowflake.

As snowflakes tumble through the air, swirling and spiraling, they each take a different path to the ground. Each snowflake falls and floats through clouds with different temperatures and moisture levels, which shapes each snowflake in a unique way.

Even though two snowflakes may form in the same cloud, their different journeys to the ground will affect their shape and size, giving each snowflake its own unique identity.

You may never find an identical pair of snowflakes, but they can be grouped by similarities in their patterns. Explore photographs of common snowflake patterns.

 

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    • It’s fun to catch and look at individual snowflakes in Wonderopolis! Have you ever found two that are almost the same? :-)

  1. That sounds like fun! We think we will try to catch two snowflakes at the same time the next time we get snow in Wonderopolis! :-)

  2. We love learning more about snow living here in Florida! We are going to inquire more about the different types of snowflakes!

    • Hi Mrs. Sicoli’s Class! We’re so glad you’re WONDERing with us! It’s so fun learning about snow and snowflakes! Has anyone in your class seen different types of snowflakes? We’d love to hear! Keep WONDERing! :)

      • Yes, we have had a few students who have seen different snowflakes and lots who have traveled up north and seen snow. We are still inquiring lots about snowflakes and are getting ready to read Snowflake Bentley! Thanks for replying:)

    • Great question, Abbie! According to the Wonder, “As snowflakes tumble through the air, swirling and spiraling, they each take a different path to the ground. Each snowflake falls and floats through clouds with different temperatures and moisture levels, which shapes each snowflake in a unique way.” Hope this helps, Wonder Friend! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why are all snowflakes different?
  • How many different types of snowflakes are there?
  • How are snowflakes formed?

Wonder Gallery

Wonder #79- Snowflake Static Image2Vimeo Video

Try It Out

No need to wait for the first snowfall to explore the world of ice crystals. You can grow your own crystallized snowflake inside a jar!

 

Still Wondering

Want to learn more? Here are a couple of resources you can explore.

  • Explore A Matter of Pattern at Science NetLinks, where you can create and predict patterns formed when making paper snowflakes.
  • Snowflakes can be photographed if you are quick enough and in the right place at the right time! Learn about Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, who photographed thousands and thousands of snowflakes.

 

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