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Science

It’s ‘Snow’ Joke: The Weird World of Multi-coloured Snow!

Winter is well and truly upon us in Britain. Snow is shutting down airports, railway lines and roads. But isn’t snow, log fires and Christmas trees what winter should be all about?

Our kitten, George, took her first few steps onto snow this morning. She he wasn’t sure what to make of it: with one tentative paw she touched the snow then ran back inside the house! Even hard-hearted old me found the scene very ‘cute’.

You’re probably not scared by white snow like our cat, but how would you feel if you awoke to see blue, pink or orange snow falling?! Welcome to the bizarre world of multi-coloured snow

Pink Snow

Pink snow puzzled mountaineers and arctic explorers for hundred of years and although you probably haven’t seen it before: it has been around since the dawn of time (even Aristotle wrote about it).

This Technicolor snow isn’t because of blood or iron deposits as was once believed. It’s caused by millions of these microscopic creatures:

The red blobs are algae cells as seen under a microscope - one teaspoon of pink snow contains over a million cells of snow algae!

Similar to the green algae the builds up in fish tanks this kind of algae is different: It’s called Chlamydomonas nivalis, and it has a strong red pigment in it. This chilly microbe has a strange liking for growing in very cold temperatures (it’s called a ‘cryophilic’ micro-organism).

When you walk on pink snow, it looks like fruit pulp and is also called watermelon snow!

Orange snow

We awoke this morning to a blanket of white snow covering everything. But residents of the Siberian town of Pudinskoye awoke one morning in 2007 to find themselves surrounded by peculiar orange snow!

The kids might have been excited to begin with, but they certainly wouldn’t be playing in this stuff: it was oily to touch and smelt rotten!

Smelly Orange Siberian Snow!

Everyone started to panic: had there been a chemical spill, nuclear  accident or something worse? Russia doesn’t have the best track record for industrial health and safety and so the Siberian residents were suspicious and the authorities ordered them not to touch or use the snow.

After many hours of head scratching, Russia’s best scientists and meteorologists eventually solved the mystery: Heavy sandstorms in neighbouring Kazakhstan had blown tonnes of sand into the upper atmosphere, which then mixed with clouds and fell as snow!

Blue Snow

If you go somewhere very cold you might be lucky enough to see violet or blue snow…

Blue Snow!

It looks beautiful doesn’t it? There is nothing wrong with this kind of snow, it’s actually the snow showing its true colours! Snow is normally white because it contains millions of tiny air bubbles. Over time if the snow gets compressed, the air is squeezed out and it turns blue – just like water!

Snow is only white because it contains tiny air bubbles. The same thing happens when you whisk an egg white - it turns white because you've added tiny air bubbles

If you’re stuck at home because of the snow why not warm yourself with this recipe for a classic Baked Alaska – and impress your friends at the same time by explaining the scientific reason why meringue (and snow) is white…!

 

Yum! Ice cream and warm meringue... Don't think it gets much better than that!

  Read more about multi-coloured snow:

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

4 thoughts on “It’s ‘Snow’ Joke: The Weird World of Multi-coloured Snow!

  1. “Watch out where the Huskies go and don’t you eat that yellow snow” – F.Zappa, Apostrophe, 1974.

    Posted by Pete Robertson | December 2, 2010, 9:11 am
  2. 🙂
    Loving it!
    …Hope you’re not being a ‘naughty eskimo’ in the snow!

    Posted by Stuart Farrimond | December 2, 2010, 9:19 am
  3. Well I certainly haven’t eaten any yellow snow, even though Barney, my Cocker Spaniel, produced some of his own last night as he dragged me slipping & sliding round the block……

    Seriously though Stu, a very interesting article (as ever), so keep up the good work.

    Posted by Pete Robertson | December 3, 2010, 10:05 am

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