In December, the season of winter begins on the Winter Solstice. By late autumn, most areas of New York State have seen at least a few snowflakes. Why not take a close look at this beautiful form of water? Here is what to do:
Get together some black construction paper, a soft paintbrush, some toothpicks, and a magnifying glass. Get a cardboard box to store your equipment in and place everything in a sheltered spot at outdoor temperatures. An unheated garden shed or garage works well. Having all your equipment cold will keep the snowflakes from melting too fast while you look at them. If you would like to try to preserve snowflakes, add a can of hair spray or spray acrylic (Krylon for example) and some glass microscope slides. If you want to try to preserve snowflakes, you will want to get an adult to help
When it starts to snow, take your box outside and catch snowflakes on the black paper. If you need to, you can move them around with the paintbrush or toothpicks. Look at them with the magnifying glass. A magnifying glass works best if you hold it close to your eye and move the paper with the snowflake up close to get it in focus. Try not to breath on the snowflake or it might melt. How many sides does a snowflake have? Do all snowflakes seem to have this same number of sides? Does the size and beauty of snowflakes change with the weather? How can you find out?
To preserve a snowflake, spray a microscope slide with hairspray or spray acrylic. Catch a falling snowflake on the sticky surface of the slide. Set the slide somewhere where it will stay cold but where no more snowflakes will fall on it, maybe in your supply box with the lid closed. Leave the slide for a few hours until the hairspray or acrylic dries and the water in the snowflake disappears. If you can, look at the finished slide under a microscope.
A Vermont farmer, Snowflake Bentley, photographed snowflakes for years. Click on his nickname to see some of the pictures he took and to read about him.
For some beautiful snowflake images visit EarthmatriX.
For more images and information about how snow forms as crystals visit Snow Crystals.