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Last Updated: Dec 30, 2008 - 11:07:20 AM 

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Saturation Point

The White Stuff
By Karey Burek
Jan 1, 2009 - 11:03:40 AM

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To celebrate Christmas this year, we spent some time at the beach soaking in the sun and the 80 degree breeze before sitting down to our ham dinner.  I shared photos of our scalding hot December day with my friends shivering in Chicago, and they actually felt sorry for me.  Too bad, they said, you didn’t have a white Christmas as they had, due to the snowstorms.  We did have a white Christmas—after all, our sand is white.
Karey Burek Photo

The color of the sand depends on the coral and food supply in the area.  For instance, some beaches are comprised of black sand due to the high volcanic rock content.  And still others, like beaches around the Tampa area are sugary white and luxuriously soft.  We know what makes the sand white, but what about snow?  If it is comprised of water, then shouldn’t it by all rights be clear?

If we think about frozen water being ice, then we can begin to understand where snow gets its color.  It isn’t necessarily transparent, but translucent.  According to howstuffworks.com, light photons don’t pass through materials in a direct path, therefore, light entering ice alters and exits the ice in a different direction than it entered.  Snow then becomes a bunch of ice crystals that are smushed together.  Light enters a layer of the snow and bounces off the ice crystals, changing directions and bouncing back out.  Technically then the “color” of all the light bouncing out of the snow pile is white and therefore that is the color we see.  However it is not the color of the ice crystals if we were to look at them individually, they would still be closer to the translucent color.

Even though holiday magic is portrayed in movies and on television and even in the festive music we listen to as being white with snow, I prefer the white of the sand and the warmth of the sun to light my way to the presents.
 


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