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Ask a Silly Question

January 25, 2000

Why are snowflakes symmetrical? Are two snowflakes ever alike?

"Snowflakes are symmetrical because they reflect the internal order of the water molecules as they arrange themselves in the solid state (the process of crystallization).

"Water molecules in the solid state, such as in ice and snow, form weak bonds (called hydrogen bonds) to one another, according to Miriam Rossi, an associate professor of chemistry at Vassar College.

"These ordered arrangements result in the basic symmetrical, hexagonal shape of the snowflake. In reality, there are many different types of snowflakes (as in the clich that 'no two snowflakes are alike'). This differentiation occurs because each snowflake is a separate crystal that is subject to the specific atmospheric conditions, notably temperature and humidity, under which it is formed," Rossi said.

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