Collecting rare winter minerals
By Waymon Cox
Happy New Year from Crater of Diamonds State Park! Although the Crater has more than 40 rocks and minerals that may be found all year long, there is one mineral most often found during the winter. It is a curious material, often found only during morning hours, though it may be seen all day during the height of the season. It is vital to life, but extended exposure can be hazardous. Like diamonds, this mineral may be found on top of the ground or underneath it, and it may be collected by hand or with a shovel. Finding a specimen is relatively simple, but keeping a long-term collection of this mineral requires specialized equipment!
If you haven’t already guessed, the substance I’m describing is ice. Because it is an inorganic substance with a definite chemical makeup (water) and a crystalline structure, natural ice is considered a mineral!
When water begins to freeze, it forms tiny, six-sided ice crystals. Like most other crystals, though, ice crystals do not retain their symmetrical hexagonal shapes for long. Because they form under a variety of turbulent weather conditions, natural ice crystals come in more shapes than any other mineral!
It is a chaotic airborne process which creates one of the most beautiful and well-known forms of ice crystals – snowflakes. Snowflakes begin in clouds as tiny ice crystals. As they blow through the air, they grow larger by absorbing water droplets. The moisture freezes faster in the corners than on the flat sides of the hexagons, creating branch-like additions that give the ice crystals a more familiar appearance.
Snowflakes fly in countless directions through the clouds, encountering temperature fluctuations and varied moisture conditions along the way. The snowflakes continue to grow as water freezes on the tiny ice branches, and each flake takes on a unique appearance. When they become too heavy, snowflakes fall from the clouds and often freeze together into larger flakes on the way down.
Just as people collect Crater diamonds, there are also those who love to collect snowflakes! Unfortunately, collecting real snowflakes is a short-term pastime, as individual flakes are very fragile and don’t keep well in home freezers. To make their collections more permanent, snow enthusiasts often preserve molds of real snowflakes!
Using a glass pane or microscope slide and an aerosol can of hairspray, you can preserve your own snowflakes! Store the glass and hairspray in a freezer or unheated outdoor building so they will be near the outdoor temperature the next time it snows.
When you are ready to collect snowflakes, take the materials outside and spray one side of the glass with hairspray until it is slightly damp (Don’t make it too moist, or the snowflakes will melt!). Catch a few snowflakes on the sprayed side of the glass, and carefully set it under cover outdoors so it will stay the same temperature but not be exposed to any more snow. After a few hours the hairspray will dry and the snowflakes will melt, leaving behind molds of the ice crystals for you to examine!
Even if you can’t preserve real snowflakes, you can easily catch a few on a cold piece of black construction paper or velvet (Dark colors help the details stand out), and take photos of them. Gather your supplies now, and the next time it snows you’ll be ready to collect one of nature’s most fascinating and fleeting minerals!
Search area last plowed: December 4, 2012
Most recent significant precipitation: December 25, 2012
Diamond finds for the weeks of December 16 and December 23, 2012 (100 points = one carat):
December 16 – Alex Williams, Camden, NY, 2 pt. white; Janet Nally, Albany, NY, 8 pt. yellow; Nancy Williams, Camden, NY, 14 pt. white
December 17 – James Robbins, Upland, CA, 3 pt. white
December 21 – Timothy Gray, Royal, AR, 5 pt. yellow
December 23 – David Anderson, Murfreesboro, AR, 6 pt. brown, 13 pt. brown, 39 pt. white
December 24 – David Anderson, Murfreesboro, AR, 33 pt. white
December 28 – Scott Sprague, Elkridge, MD, 3 pt. white