Sunday, January 25, 2009

What do you do with a fresh blanket of snow?

If you have a stereo microscope, and you're inspired by a recent blogpost by a friend, you look at snowflakes under the microscope!

We received about 2 inches of fresh snow this morning that settled softly on the yard and roofs. We set the microscope out on the porch before church so it would cool down and the snowflakes would not melt when they came in contact with the device. As it turned out, we weren't organized enough this morning to do our viewing when the flakes were falling, so we had to wait until we got home in the afternoon. By that time the snow had finished falling and we had to shake snow off bushes or scoop some out of the yard to look at. Consequently, the viewing was not ideal. The flakes were pretty small when they fell this morning, and as you can see in the images below, it was hard to find a complete flake that was not attached to another flake, or damaged in handling.

Here's Karen setting up the first sample while Lily waits in the background. The wind direction this morning providentially kept snow off the porch by the front door, so we could set up the scope there without getting into a lot of snow.

The subjects ready for viewing.

Here's what those little flakes looked like magnified 30 times. This was the first time we've tried to photograph anything through the microscope, and I'm pleased at how the digital camera performed. We were able to put the lens right up next to one of the eyepieces, and it seemed to have little trouble focusing on whatever the microscope was focused on. Because the snowflakes are three dimensional, you normally can't focus on the entire flake at once, hence the focused and unfocused portions of the photos due to the short focal length of the microscope and the camera. I should also mention that the camera chose a pretty slow shutter speed (1/4 second) due to the lack of light, so it was hard to hold the camera still enough to avoid blurriness.
Here's a bigger clump of snowflakes that were difficult to separate. I especially like the hexagon shaped flake near the top of the image in the middle.

Here's the last image for this episode of snowflake viewing. I'd forgotten how icy snowflakes look when seen up close and personal, although logic would tell you when water gets cold it turns to ice. That's something that always seems to surprise me when they are magnified big enough that you can see through them. Hopefully we'll get some larger flakes someday in the near future, so we can get some better images. Until then, thanks for stopping in....


  1. Man, that looks cold! Couldn't you do that inside where it's a little warmer?

  2. That looks like fun. Every once in awhile Chad does some searching for a microscope. I'm gonna have to show him your blog and get him back in the mood!