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A favorite wintertime activity for many children is maing paper snowflakes. Fold the paper just right, make a few cuts and you have a perfect six-sided snowflake. I wonder how many of us who have made a paper snowflake have ever taken a really close look at a snowflake. Probably very few. However, seeing the beauty of a real snowflake is much easier than making a paper one. All that is needed is a piece of black material, a magnifying glass and a snowy day.
By looking closely at real snowflakes, you will quickly realize that not all snowflakes are six-sided. The international Commission on Snow and Ice defined seven different patterns of snowflakes: star, plate, needle, column, column with a cat at each end, spacial dendrite and irregular. Other snow scientists recognized that not all snowflakes seemed to fall withn this pattern of 7 types, so they came up with their own classification system. You can check out some of these patterns at SnowCrystals.com web site at
The pattern that a snowflake grows into depends a lot on the atmospheric conditions under which it was formed - particularly the temperature and humidity. To learn more about how a snowflake grows and why, check out the Snowflake Primer at
No matter in what conditions the snowflake grows, catching them and observing them up close is a rewarding experience. And if you like to keep notes, why not make up your own classification system for the snowflakes you collect? As well as identifying different patterns of snowflakes, you might want to keep a record of the temperature and humidity that they were collected under. Perhaps you will notice a pattern of certain types of flakes forming under specific conditions.
Using a magnifying glass or jewelers loupe:
Hold the magnifying glass about 1 inch from your eye. Lookig through the magnifying glass, move the object you are looking at towards you until it is in focus.
Alternative magnifying glass:
If you do not have a magnifying glass, try using a pair of binoculars. Look through them backwards and move the object towards the eyepiece until it is in focus. It will have to be quite close to the eyepiece.
Measuring the humidity of the air is easy with a wet-bulb thermometer or sling psychrometer.