Freezing Cold and Falling Skies

The natural world is home to a seemingly limitless supply of interest for any microscope owner. Nature might not always supply what your looking for, but there is always something to look at. -K

Faced with a seasonably cold winter and a terrible lack of snowflakes suitable for microscopy, I spent the morning thinking about what I might get out and collect now that wouldn’t be available in a few months when the seasons change. Snow is the obvious perishable commodity, of interest are the things carried by it. In particular areas algae and even pollen will color the snow, much to the wonder of people like the late, mad, Charles Hoy Fort.

A peek out the window showed no colored snows in evidence, only driven white powder made up of tiny balls thanks to the wind and temperatures higher up in the atmosphere. Snow, like rain, has the habit of bringing down things from the heavens; rain drops form around a nucleus of minute particulate matter and carry it to Earth, as does snow. Soot from chimneys, dust, pollen and even pollution are some of the more mundane things that fall with snow (or rain), but there is another passenger that comes from much farther.

Micro-meteors bombard the planet constantly and fall to the ground on their own, or with rain and snow as micrometeorites. In warm weather one can collect water from a downspout and search for bits of extraterrestrial material with a rare earth magnet. Anything sticking to the magnet, of minute size, and bearing a characteristic appearance is a likely micro-meteor. With roofs and gutters the way they are one will only end up with what happened to strike the roof.

Snow affords a unique opportunity to take samples from wherever one would like. This afternoon I went out to the garden with a large plastic storage bag and a 1 liter beaker. I held the bag open and dragged it across an area of new fallen snow about one meter square going down 2 centimeters or so. I didn’t pack the snow down and ended up with a quite full 2.5 gallon zip-lock bag of snow. Choosing a similarly undisturbed area I proceeded to pack snow into the beaker.

Things have been meting for a while now and there appears to have been all manner of things hidden in that clean white snow. When everything has melted I’ll take a close look at just what was hidden away and try a little write up of what was found.