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Visualized: How Snowflakes are Formed

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Visualized: How Snowflakes are Formed

The Art of Snow

If you look at snow up close, you will probably notice that it is made up of thousands of tiny flakes with beautifully complex designs.

These snowflakes are actually ice crystals. They form in our atmosphere, high in the clouds, and transform along their journey to Earth thanks to different factors and forces.

We look at how snowflakes are formed, and what atmospheric conditions contribute to the beautiful intricacies we’ve come to know them for.

How to Build a Snowflake

The designs of snowflakes are actually products of a crystallization process that is controlled by the atmosphere.

Water vapor in the atmosphere latches onto a free-floating speck of pollen or dust and acts as a nucleator. This means that it can begin to add on (ie. nucleate) more water molecules and grow in size. When this happens at cold temperatures, water also freezes and crystallizes.

Despite the many unique styles of snowflakes, they all crystallize in the exact same shape—a hexagon. The reason for this has to do with how water behaves at the chemical level. At room temperature, water molecules flow randomly around each other, forming and breaking bonds endlessly.

When temperatures cool, however, they begin to lose kinetic energy and form more stable bonds. By 0°C, they reorient themselves into an energetically-efficient position, which happens to be a rigid, hexagonal configuration. This is frozen water, or ice.

All snowflakes nucleate and crystallize this way. As more water molecules nucleate to the infant snow crystal, they crystallize long arms and branching tendrils, forming unique, artistic designs.

How these designs materialize is simply a matter of water availability and temperature, a relationship best described in the Nakaya Diagram of Snowflakes.

The Nakaya Diagram of Snowflakes

In the 1930s, Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya created the first artificial snowflakes and studied their growth as an analog for natural snow crystal formation. The Snow Crystal Morphology Diagram, or the Nakaya Diagram, is his handy chart that illustrates how snowflakes are formed.

The diagram illustrates the kinds of snowflakes that form via atmospheric temperature and humidity during a snow crystal’s fall to the ground.

Snowflake size and complexity depend on the humidity of the atmosphere. More water means larger, more intricate snowflakes.

Surprisingly, snowflakes cycle between two classes of growth (plates vs. columns) as temperatures decrease.

Close to its 100-year anniversary, this detail of the Nakaya diagram still puzzles researchers today. Many continue to theorize and demonstrate how this phenomenon may be possible.

Start the Same, Finish Different

You might be wondering how it is possible that no two snowflakes are identical if they all have a hexagonal inception and can form only columns or plates.

The answer lies in the dynamic nature of the atmosphere.

The atmosphere is constantly changing. As each second goes by, temperature, humidity, wind direction, and a number of other factors bombard a snow crystal as it falls to the ground.

Snow crystals are sensitive to the tiniest of these changes. Water vapor that is crystallizing responds to different exposures which ultimately make new patterns.

Since no two snowflakes travel in the exact same path at the exact same time, no two snowflakes will look the same. Same start, different endings.

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Science

What Are the 10 Most Common Primates in the World?

This list excludes humans, who would otherwise lead the ranks of most common primates by a significant margin.

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A cropped chart ranking the 10 most common primates by population.

What Are the 10 Most Common Primates in the World?

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The word ‘primate’ traces its roots back to the Latin word ‘primas,’ meaning ‘of first rank’ or the highest order in the animal kingdom. This classification intuitively reflects humans’ fascination with the many species who are our closest cousins.

In this graphic, we visualize the top 10 species of primates, ranked by their estimated global population. This data comes from WorldAtlas, and was last updated in 2017.

Given the difficult nature of tracking wild animals, these numbers should be treated as approximations rather than exact figures.

ℹ️ This list does not include Humans, who would be the most populous primate by far.

Ranked: Top 10 Primates, by Population

At the top of the list, there are more than 300,000 Müller’s Bornean Gibbons in the world, found on the island of Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The larger gibbon family consists of around 20 species of small apes found swinging through Southeast Asian rainforests. These acrobatic primates are known for their loud calls, impressive agility, and monogamous family structures.

Despite their ape status, they differ from great apes by being smaller and lacking nests.

RankMonkeyRegion of OriginEstimated Population
(as of 2017)
1Muller's Bornean
Gibbon
🇮🇩 Indonesia312,500
2Common
Chimpanzee
🌍 Sub-Saharan Africa236,200
3Gelada🇪🇹 Ethiopia200,000
4Western
Gorilla
🌍 Western Africa175,000
5Bornean
Orangutan
🇮🇩 Indonesia /
🇲🇾 Malaysia
57,000
6Mentawai
Langur
🇮🇩 Indonesia36,000
7Bonobo🇨🇩 DRC39,750
8Kloss's Gibbon🇮🇩 Indonesia35,000
9Red-eared
Guenon
🌍 West & Central
Africa
20,000
10Nilgiri Langur🇮🇳 India20,000

Ranked second, the Common Chimpanzee can be found in the savannas and forests of sub-Saharan Africa. A subspecies—the Eastern Chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park—were the primary focus of noted biologist Jane Goodall’s pioneering research in the 1960s.

Despite their apparent numbers, chimpanzees are now classified as an endangered species by the UN, their survival threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and disease.

All the way across, in Ethiopia, the Gelada species is the third most populous primate on the planet. Their short, stump fingers make them adept rock climbers—useful for navigating the Semien mountains they call home.

At fourth place, the Western Gorilla, also found in Africa, is the last primate species with a population above 100,000. The Western Gorillas are a little smaller than their Eastern counterparts, who are the largest living primates.

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