Why is snow white?

If it’s winter, then the prospect of seeing snow on the ground also rears its head – and this year has been no exception.

Since the start of January various parts of the country have been blanketed in the white stuff, with London finally catching up and getting its own snowfall after Manchester and other parts of the north faced heavy snow.

And while it can cause inconvenience, it does make everything look picturesque and wintry when it settles.

The big question is though – just why is snow white?

Here’s what you need to know about the colour – or lack of – of snow…

Why is snow white?

There’s a fairly simple explanation as to how snow gets its gleaming white appearance – it’s all to do with science, and the way we view it.

Snowflakes are basically crystals of frozen water – which of course may appear to be clear or even slightly blue in large amounts – but the fact we see them as white has a lot to do with how the light interacts with them.

While water may appear to be transparent, it is actually translucent – and while light can pass through transparent material unchanged, it’s a different story for translucent material.

In that case, light is bent or altered and scattered across the frozen crystals according to their shape or appearance – with some of that light scattered back out into all spectral colours.

We subsequently see this as white, however, since white light comprises all of the colours in the visible spectrum.

This, in turn, also gives the white appearance to accumulations of snow on the ground – since we never usually see a single snowflake, but rather millions of them during a big snowfall.

As the light reflects on all of them at once, the number of locations means that there is no one wavelength which is continually absorbed or reflected.

This means the light reflecting off the snow will be white – meaning that we will also see it as white.

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