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Why does snow sparkle?

January 13, 2011

While writing my morning blog, I investigated sparkling snow, or sparkle snow, and came across some interesting info for you, that is, if you find it interesting, too.

There are these weather guys,  Steven A. Ackerman and Jonathan Martin, professors in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UW-Madison. I tried to download their pictures, because they’re adorable, but wasn’t allowed to for security reasons.

They tell us that

Sometimes on a sunny day, freshly fallen snow may appear to sparkle or glitter. This happens because when light hits an object light, it can be absorbed, in which case the object is heated; transmitted, in which case light passes through the object; or reflected, in which case it bounces back.

Flat snowflakes resting on top of a blanket of snow also can act like a mirror, reflecting a portion of the sun’s image toward your eye. Each ‘sparkle’ is a reflection of the sun’s image from a single crystal. Whether we see the sparkle depends on the angle between the sun, the snowflake’s position on the snow and the location of our eye. When the angle is right, when we walk by a field of snow, we’ll see glitter as the sun is reflected by different snowflakes.

You may notice some faint colors in the sparkles. As light travels between air and water, the colors in the light separate, much as they do in a rainbow. The sun’s ray can reflect off different surfaces of the crystal. If the sunlight reflects off the back of the ice crystal, the colors may disperse as the light enters and exits the crystal, making those faint colors.

They also have a website that offers

Cool Science Images & Virtual Science! 

and

Real Curiosities

Another website that gives a nifty explanation with a marvelous illustrations is Morning Coffee Physics

Check ’em both out!

 

Our sparkles are gone, replaced by slush and slippery rain.  But I’m happy!

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 6:43 pm

    These scientists are pulling your leg. It is a proven fact that snow sparkles because of the three rabbits that sprinkle silver glitter on the snow when every one is sleeping.

    • January 13, 2011 7:27 pm

      Carl, I like your explanation better 🙂
      Nancy, I like your explanation, too — I just like bunny glitter more. But in the end, what I care about most, is that snow DOES glitter. Thanks for the smile.
      Janet

      • January 14, 2011 8:22 am

        Janet, I like Carl’s better, too! Wish I had been in my whimsical self when I wrote it! Keep smiling! Smiles deliver such a wonderload of light! N

    • January 14, 2011 8:21 am

      Oh, Carl, I love you!

      • January 14, 2011 9:34 am

        I also know about the truth behind rainbows, moon beams and the laughter of little children,

      • January 14, 2011 9:56 am

        You are so full of light, carldagostino! I’m really glad you’re in my life. You are a fairydust sprinkler extraordinaire, my friend. Nancy

  2. January 14, 2011 10:12 am

    Thank you for your kind words And you have made me reflect on things I put on my spiritual storage shelf a long time ago and it is time to dust them off. You may like the theology blog parchment and pen” Issues of faith and contemporary applications discussions by some very learned folks.

  3. January 14, 2011 10:26 am

    Thank you for your kind words And you have made me reflect on things I put on my spiritual storage shelf a long time ago and it is time to dust them off. You may like the theology blog “parchment and pen” Issues of faith and contemporary applications discussions by some very learned folks.

  4. January 21, 2013 9:53 am

    Snow is magical!!!

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