Sunday, March 11, 2018

Water, Goldilocks, And The Incredible Gift Of Snow

In Tahoe as well as the rest of California, we survive or thrive because of the presence of snow. Yes, it's pretty and fun to play on. But its real value is that snow is a version of water that's deposited gently over a very large territory and then released slowly over months to sustain the ecosystem, plants and animals, one of which is us.

Because hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms have such a strong affinity for each other, they lock elbows whenever they get a chance, two hydrogens for each oxygen. The combination is dihydrogen monoxide, more commonly known as water.

Scientists have now found water, both liquid and frozen, all over the solar system. It's in craters at the poles of our very own moon. It is found in large quantities under the sands of Mars, on the moons of the giant planets such as Saturn's Encedalus, which has huge oceans of liquid water beneath its surface.

Other scientists have discovered hundreds of planets orbiting distant stars. They wonder if any of those planets also have water, especially the liquid kind. The reason for that question is that the version of life that we are familiar with is generally dependent on liquid water.

The key to the presence of water is whether or not the planet is too hot (too close to its star), too cold (too far from its star), or just right (the Goldilocks zone).

Because there are uncountable billions of stars out there, the assumption is that very many of them have planets with water, either frozen or liquid. But do any of them have snow? Gentle, falling bits of water, precipitating out of an atmosphere that contains water vapor? Water vapor that has cooled and condensed into tiny, elaborate, beautiful ice crystals?

Is snow a miracle? No. It is by all scientific reasoning a completely natural phenomenon.

But it is an amazing gift without which our life wouldn't exist as we know it.

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