The Science of Snow. Fun Facts and Experiments for Kids

The science of snow for kids also means spending time outside to have fun. It’s basically a win-win for parents. While kids are playing with snow, they are learning stuff too! Think school science fair meets snow day. Snowy winters are perfect opps to teach your kids that nature is also part science. I’ve listed a few fun snow science facts as well as experiments to understand snow better. Now, your kids can geek out on tiny crystals better than Elsa in the movie Frozen.

Where does snow come from?

Snow is composed of billions of tiny ice crystals that form when three elements meet:

  • very cold temperatures (0C/32F or below)
  • water vapour
  • airborne particulates, such as microscopic dust or sand

When dust particles come into contact with water vapour at very cold temperatures, water begins to crystallize. That means that the water vapour immediately becomes ice when it gets to touch a tiny dust particulate. During this process, the ice cristal becomes more and more heavy until it falls down to earth. While it falls, the ice cristal continues to stretch because of other ice crystals clumping to it. That’s why snow falls less rapidly than rain does. Though all snowflakes are hexagonal when they begin to form, each snowflake is unique when it reaches the ground. The colder the weather is, the sharper the pointers of the ice crystals become. When the temperature is around 0°C/32F, the snowflakes come with a rounder shape.

Chemistry Central |Melting Snow and Ice with Salt and Sugar

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If your kids have seen cold winter places, they’ve probably seen salt on sidewalks and roads. The reason salt is used is that it lowers the freezing point of water. Think of the sea during a severe winter storm. It’s so salty that it hardly ever freezes over. Same principle. Now, there are other compounds that melt snow and sugar is one of them. Of course, it might be sticky to sprinkle sugar on sidewalks but your kids can try this experiment.

  • Go outside and collect snow in three separate cups.
  • Bring them inside and put them on a table.
  • Sprinkle table salt (sodium chloride) on the first one.
  • Sprinkle sugar on the second one.
  • Leave the third one alone.
  • Which one melts faster?

You’ll find out that salt is the most efficient way to melt snow. If you don’t have snow around but want to try this experiment at home, try this instead.

  • Add salt and sugar to 2 small cups of water and stir until the solids don’t dissolve anymore. You’ll have two saturated solutions.
  • Prepare a similar cup with only water.
  • Place all three cups in the freezer and check every 10 minutes.
  • Which one freezes faster and what do the solutions look like?

You will find that the plain water freezes, the sugar water becomes slush and the salt water doesn’t freeze. That’s the effect of freezing point depression. You have demonstrated that some compounds added to water lower its freezing temperature. You can also try this experiment with other items that dissolve in water: instant coffee granules, powdered chocolate, or food coloring. Have fun!

How to Catch a Snowflake and Keep It Forever

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Snowflakes are beautiful but short-lived. As soon as they land on a surface, they start to melt and their beautiful structure turns into a smudge. If you’re patient and careful, you can catch a snowflake and preserve it like a work of art.

  1. Take two or more sheets of black paper and cut pieces of cardboard for each of them.
  2. Use clothespins or paper clips to attach the paper on the cardboard and put all your sheets with cardboard in the freezer.
  3. Prepare cardboard boxes for each cardboard sheet you will use. Take the boxes outside so that they will be cold enough until it starts to snow.
  4. Once the snow falls, go out with the cardboard sheets and spray it with hairspray. Don’t spray too much otherwise the snowflakes will only melt on it.
  5. Hold the cardboard with the clothespins so that your hands won’t warm it up and melt the snowflakes.
  6. If you feel that you have enough snowflakes, carefully cover the cardboard immediately under the cardboard boxes. Let it rest in it for an hour or few more.
  7. After this time, the snowflakes stuck on the cardboard would have evaporated and you have and the dried hairspray preserved the exact structure of them for you to observe and to keep as souvenir.

You can also try this method with regular school glue.

How to Photograph A Snowflake with Your iPhone and a $5 budget

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Outdoorsy dad and iPhone photographer Ben Woodworth is lucky to live in Michigan where winters are cold and very snowy. With the addition of a simple clip-on macro lens bought on Amazon for his iPhone, he managed to take amazing photographs of snow crystals. You can check his Instagram account here. His secret? Like all avid winter photographers, he knows that snowflakes melt very rapidly on organic surfaces. He used his dark backpack as a backdrop for his remarkable close-ups. If you’re doing like him, carry a dark umbrella or dark fabric so that the contrast between the snowflakes and the backdrop is sharp.

How to Photograph a Snowflake with Your Regular Point-and-Shoot

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I took this photo of snowflakes caught in my daughter’s fake fur coat with my regular point and shoot camera. Granted, it’s not the most impressive snowflake photograph you’ll ever see but you can clearly see the structure of the snowflake in the middle. I used the macro setting, stepped back, zoomed as much as I could and snapped a series of pictures. No expensive DSLR and tripods needed for funky results. Try it!

See Snowflakes Under A Microscope

    • Snowflakes size generally ranges from 0.007 inches (0.2mm) to 0.7 inches (2mm).
    • The world’s largest snowflake is listed in the Guiness World Record. It measured 15 inches (38cm) and appeared in January 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana.
    • Though each snowflake is unique, they all have hexagonal structure (six sides).
    • You can see a great gallery of snowflakes under microscopes on Instagram here.

Discover the Different Shapes of Snowflakes

Conclusion

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post on the science of snow and that it will inspire you to try a few experiments with your kids next time you enjoy a snowy winter day. Have fun!

 

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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Cool Science Facts about Snow

  • In winter, it snows in the Martian Poles.
  • The air trapped in compacted snow and ice in glaciers is thousands of years old.
  • Once a snowflake lands in the ocean, it takes about 1,600 years for the water it contained to travel around the world.
  • A snowflake is composed of 180 billion of water molecules.
  • Snow is not white. In fact, snowflakes are colorless but they appear white because of the sunlight.

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