September 28, 2022

A beautiful ice crystal formed on an ISS window but nobody knows how

The ice crystal that formed on the window of the ISS (Credits: @SergKorsakov/Twitter)

A hauntingly beautiful picture of an ice crystal on the window of the International Space Station (ISS) has left experts both enchanted and puzzled.

After all, as pretty as it is – this is possibly the first ever picture of an ice crystal on the window of a spacecraft.

It was taken by cosmonaut Sergey Korsakov last month and posted to Twitter.

According to Korsakov, the crystals lasted for around 24 hours. And even after they had melted, the condensation pattern was still visible.

The thick windows on the ISS are made up of multiple panes. The internal ones are split by air while the external ones are separated by a vacuum. So it’s possible the pattern could have formed on the inside of the station or between the panes. It’s tricky to tell from the photograph.

Nasa, the European space agency nor JAXA (Japan’s space agency) are able to help because apparently this window is located in the Russian module of the ISS. And, well, nobody is really talking to Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) at the moment for obvious reasons.

Dr James Lea, a glaciologist at the University of Liverpool, told IFLScience: ‘The feature seems to have most ice at the borders of the circle – this suggests the formation mechanism is acting equally from all sides, reaches a threshold to form ice at the circle edge, and then all water vapour is depleted before it gets to the middle.’

‘The bits of ice that extend into the middle are ice crystals being ice crystals and using themselves to help expand out – they can’t go outside the circle as it’s too warm.’ he continued.

International Space Station Orbiting Earth. 3D Illustration.

The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest single structure ever put into space by humans.(Picture: Getty.)

Dr Tom Whale, an expert on the role of ice nucleation in atmospheric science and cryobiology from the University of Warwick, added his two cents.

‘If there is a little water vapour in a cavity between panes of the window, or perhaps a leak of relatively moist air from the space station into the cavity, it may be that ice tends to form at the point on the window where it gets cold enough for ice to form, and then grows inward from there. The circular shape of the ice may reflect a circular window geometry,’ he told IFLScience.

Even if we don’t know the exact specifics of how this ice crystal came to form, we can still certainly appreciate the picture.


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A beautiful ice crystal formed on an ISS window but nobody knows how