Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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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:
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
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.
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.
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
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.
You can also try this method with regular school glue.
How to Photograph A Snowflake with Your iPhone and a $5 budget
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
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
Discover the Different Shapes of Snowflakes
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!