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Snowflake 903 | by Don Komarechka
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Snowflake 903

This snowflake duet reveals the size difference in various snowflake shapes, but it also has a splash of colour in an unusual spot from an uncommon cause! I love these extra adornments, and I’m happy to explain them as well!


When snowflakes are small, they’re all some variety of hexagonal prism – tiny plates or columns of ice with almost no detail. These “starter” snowflakes can keep their hexagonalness (I’m making this a word) up to a certain point, but the branching instability will eventually cause the corners to grow into branches. The tiny hexagon crystal could have gotten larger, as we have evidence in the larger snowflake that it nearly doubled in diameter in the center – but when you see a hexagon shape, you know it’s small, with most of them 1mm or less in size.


The spot of colour is a fun curiosity! It’s important to note that when you observe snowflakes looking for a specimen worthy of photographing, you might discard thousands of crystals. The sheer volume of snowflakes that fall will allow for some oddball discoveries, like we’re seeing here. What’s odd? By pure randomness, the tip of a branch from another snowflake stuck itself to the backside of this one – that colourful area was originally part of a different crystal structure. Colours caused from thin film interference can be seen when two snowflakes “fuse” together, if they have had enough time to sublimate and re-attach water molecules inside of the small gap between layers of ice. This creates small gradients in thickness that reveal colour patterns that flow more smoothly, more closely resembling what you would see on soap film compared to a snowflake. I’ve documented this well in plate-type snowflake fusing before: - and the colours in this snowflake formed the same way.


There are signs of other attachments as well – the evidence is presented as unbalanced details. See the right-most branch? It doesn’t have the same club-like shape as the others. There was another snowflake that was connected here at some point during the final stages of growth. I often use a small artist’s paintbrush to clear clutter off of a snowflake, but that clutter is sometimes part of a greater whole. The missing crystal could have also fallen off in the air or as the snowflake hit the ground.


Every one of these minuscule arrangements of water molecules has a story to tell. Some are ugly balls of ice, others exhibit near-perfect symmetry, but it’s rare that the story of a snowflake is not affected by the stories of those that formed around it. For more snowflake stories and macro photography musings, be sure to check out my comprehensive how-to book on the subject, while quantities last:

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Taken on February 13, 2021