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Is It True That No Two Snowflakes Are Alike?

fragment of snow texture Snowflakes close-up
Bobkov Evgeniy/Shutterstock

We’ve all heard it said that no two snowflakes are alike, but is that statement correct? When the snow starts falling, a lot of flakes are around to compare. It’s not an easy task, but here are some answers.

Technically, the answer is right. However, so many factors come in to play when looking at how a snowflake is created, and there’s just no way to look at every snowflake that falls.

The Minute Details of Snowflakes

Looking at a handful of snowflakes, you may not see that much difference. At less than half an inch in size, it’s difficult even to see the fantastic details harbored in a single snowflake. The more you catch, the more you’ll see similarities. The thing is, to see the difference in each snowflake, you need to get down to the molecular level. You need an up-close look that you can’t get with the naked eye.

To understand why no two snowflakes are the same, you need to know how snowflakes are created, which is more than just frozen rain. The mixture of hydrogen and oxygen isotopes that produce snowflakes make the crystal structure of each flake different. That’s because each of the isotopes is slightly different from the others. It’s the hydrogen isotopes that cause the variations.

This internal makeup of the snowflake makes each of them different. A lot of scientific information explains how snowflakes form.

Snowflakes contain more water molecules than you can imagine. Ten to the 18th power’s worth of water molecules are found in one snow crystal, which is 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot for such a small thing.

Not only do isotopes and water molecules have a role in how snowflakes look and keeping them all different, but these things can also all form differently (and do). They form around tiny particles, which affect the shape. When you make sugar crystals, the shapes are different depending on the rock you’re growing them on, or how the string is placed in the water—the same happens with snow crystals. Whether they form on a piece of dust or a particle of pollen, the shape will be reflective of what shape its host is.

How Many Snowflakes Fall Each Year?

You may look at a few snowflakes under a microscope and think they look similar, but now you know that snow crystals are not always what they seem. Now, if there were two identical pieces of dust in the air, you may think that you could get twin snowflakes. But, the isotopes are still likely to be different.

As snowflakes fall, their shape can sometimes be altered as well, depending on other weather conditions, including the temperature.

You’ll never be able to tell for sure if there are two snowflakes out there that look the same. According to LiveScience, a million billion snowflakes fall each year. There’s no way to look at all of them.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »