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Natural Snowflakes
  --Photo Gallery I
  --Photo Gallery II
  --Photo Gallery III
  --Guide to Snowflakes
  --Snowflake Books
  --Historic Snowflakes
  --Ice Crystal Halos
  --Snowflake Store
Designer Snowflakes
  --I: First Attempts
  --II: Better Snowflakes
  --III: Precision Snow
  --Snowflake Movies
  --Free-falling Snow
  --Designer's Page
Frost Crystals
  --Guide to Frost
  --Frost Photos
Snowflake Physics
  --Snowflake Primer
  --Snow Crystal FAQs
  --No Two Alike?
  --Crystal Faceting
  --Snowflake Branching
  --Electric Growth
  --Ice Properties
  --Myths and Nonsense
Snow Activities
  --Snowflake Watching
  --Photographing Snow
  --Make Your Own
  --Snowflake Fossils
  --Ice Spikes
  --Activities for Kids
Snowflake Touring
  --Snowflake Hot Spots
  --Northern Ontario
  --Hokkaido, Japan (2) (3)
  --Michigan U. P.
  --California Mountains
Copyright Issues
Snowflake Watching
   ... In search of the perfect snowflake ...
     If you live in a cold climate, you can do much more than just look at snowflake pictures.  You can experience the real thing for yourself!  It's easy ... and it's fun!.   Snowflake watching also a fine way to introduce your children to a bit of outdoor science.  All it takes is a little magnification, a little patience, and some interest in observing Nature's art.  You may be amazed by what you find falling out of the sky on a cold winter's day! 
Magnifiers - A Buyer's Guide
magnifierx.jpg (3963 bytes)magnifier2x.jpg (6030 bytes)     Snowflake watching, like bird watching, requires some optical gear.  The best way to begin is with an inexpensive magnifier.  It doesn't have to be the large kind you associate with Sherlock Holmes (far right).  A smaller, fold-up magnifier (near right) works very well.   These are available at many drugstores or hardware stores for just a few dollars (or see below for other sources).

     The best way to find beautiful snowflakes is to keep a small magnifier in your coat pocket.  Not all snowfalls bring nice crystals, so you have to keep your eyes open and be patient.  Someday - when you're out skiing, snowmobiling, or just buying groceries - you will look down on your sleeve and want your magnifier.  It only takes a minute to have a closer look, and it's fun! 

     If you want to know what to look for when snowflake watching, check out my online Guide to Snowflakes.  Or, for a handy book that describes the different types of crystals in more detail, I heartily recommend my Field Guide to Snowflakes.  Finding the different crystal types is fairly easy once you know what's out there.

Inexpensive Magnifiers
     A typical magnifier, as found at your local drugstore or hardware store, will probably cost about $6, maybe less.  A magnification of 3X is okay, but 5X is better for looking at snowflakes.  A fold-up double-magnifier (pictured above), with two 5X lenses, is a good choice.  A single 5X lens is good for most viewing, and using both lenses together for 10X is useful for looking at smaller crystals.  In the folded position, the lenses are protected in your coat pocket.  And since it only costs a few dollars, it's no great tragedy if it gets lost.

     If you cannot find what you want at your local store, try Indigo InstrumentsI recommend model 23202-3, which has a pair of reasonable quality, glass 5X lenses in a plastic case for under $3.  I usually carry around one of these, and the optical quality is surprisingly good.  You don't have to spend much money to start snowflake watching. 

Jeweler's Loupes
     If you want better optical quality than you get with an inexpensive magnifier, then you can move up to a jeweler's loupe.  These are also just magnifiers, but they use better-made optics and give a sharper, clearer image.  They also cost more, about $20-$60 each, and they're a bit heavier in your pocket.
     I recommend the BelOMO 7x Triplet Loupe Magnifier found at the Amateur Geologist Shop.  It cost about $25, which is a pretty good buy.
     The Edmund Optics Hastings Triplets from Edmunds are also good, but more expensive (search their site for "Hastings Triplet").  The 7X ($46) is good for all-around viewing.  The 10X ($47) is good for smaller crystals, but I find my 10X doesn't get much use.

pennyx.jpg (20420 bytes)     The picture at right shows you the size of an average-sized snowflake.  You can test your magnifier in the comfort of your living room by having a look at a shiny new penny.  If you can see Honest Abe sitting in the Lincoln Memorial (on the back of a penny), then your magnifier is good enough.

     Once you're out in a gentle snowfall, simply let some snowflakes fall on your sleeve and have a look.  But remember - not all snowfalls bring gorgeous snow crystals.  If you don't see much interesting after 5 minutes, then you might as well stop looking.  Try again another day.  If you take a quick look whenever it snows, before long you will be spotting all kinds of stellar plates and dendrites, columns and needles, capped columns, and 12-branched snowflakes.

Microscopes - A Buyer's Guide
    Magnifiers are an excellent way to start, but looking at snow crystals under a microscope can be positively thrilling!  (That's one man's opinion, anyway.)  If you already enjoy watching snowflakes with a magnifier, and you want to see more detail, then I recommend taking the plunge and buying a microscope.  It isn't real cheap, but a microscope will give you many years of snowflake-viewing pleasure.  You'll remember the beautiful crystals you've seen long after you've forgotten the price.

     I've done some shopping for inexpensive snowflake microscopes, and I recommend two in particular -- the Model 400TBL (pictured at right) or the Model 405TBL from National Optical, both with a 4X objective and 15X eyepieces (400TBL-15-4 or 405TBL-15-4).  These two models are essentially the same microscope, except the 405TBL has inclined eyepieces and is a bit more expensive.  Both give a field-of-view of about 3mm, which is good for snowflake watching.
     You can purchase the 405 from Microscope World for about $175.  I own one of these microscopes, and the image quality is quite good.  I believe you will not find a suitable snowflake microscope for a lower price.  (There are cheaper microscopes out there, but they often have truly awful optical quality.) 
     Note that the 400TBL and 405TBL have illuminated bases, and I've found they work well for snowflake watching.  One thing, however -- you cannot set glass slides containing snowflakes directly on the illuminated base, since the heat will melt your snowflakes quickly.  You need to make a simple paper platform to hold the crystals.  (More details on this will be coming by 10/2006).

Using your Microscope
     I've found two good ways to look at snowflakes under a microscope.  If the crystals are large, then use a piece of cardboard as a collection board.  Blue "foam-core" -- a styrofoam core between cardboard layers, available at art supply or office supply stores -- works especially well.
     Let snowflakes fall on your collection board while you look around for nice crystals.  When you see one you like, use a small artist's brush to pick up the crystal and move it to a glass microscope slide.  Sometimes you have to twirl the brush and roll it under a crystal to pick it up.  When the crystal is on the slide, push down on it gently with the brush so it lies flat on the glass.  Then put the slide under the microscope and have a look.

     If the snow crystals are too small to pick up easily, then let the crystals fall directly onto some glass microscope slides.  Support them by their edges so the bottom surfaces don't get covered with glop.  When a slide has a nice dusting of snow, put it under the microscope and scan around for nice crystals.  You can see some very interesting small snow crystals this way.  When you've seen what one slide has to offer, clean it off and try again.

     Important operating tip:  Before bringing your microscope in from the cold, put it inside a large zip-lock bag.  That will keep moisture from condensing on all the optics.

     For some tips on how to photograph snowflakes, see Photographing Snow.

     To capture snow crystals in plastic, so you can view them later in the comfort of your living room, see Snowflake Fossils.


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