Skip to main content

Is It True That No Two Snowflakes Are Identical?

snowflake-02
(Image credit: Kenneth Libbrecht, Caltech/ www.snowcrystals.com)

Although some scientists have found fault with the saying, most researchers agree that no two snowflakes are alike.

Here's how it works: A snowflake starts out as a simple hexagonal prism. As each flake falls, it bumps into a unique range of shape-changing conditions.

[Got a question? Send us an email and we'll look for an expert who can crack it.]

In the 1970s, researchers at the Science University of Tokyo discovered that humidity, temperature, and air pressure determine the shape of a snowflake.

“Although no two crystals end up exactly alike, the six arms of a single crystal all travel together, so they all grow in synchrony, giving each falling crystal a unique and intricate structure with a recognizable symmetry,” said Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology.

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science, TODAY.com, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.