The “hair” sprouting off this department resembles a downy feather duster or fluffy tuft of cotton—possibly even fragments of a nasty white wig. However every strand is in reality made from exhausting, chilly ice.

For these manes of silky-smooth ice crystals (aptly termed “hair ice”) to look, a specific fungus known as Exidiopsis effusa has to colonize rotting wooden from a broadleaf tree, and temperatures should hover just under freezing in a sufficiently humid setting. Such a selected convergence of situations might sound uncommon, but it surely occurs typically sufficient that scientists had been puzzling over this weird ice formation’s trigger for greater than a century— together with Alfred Wegener, the scientist who proposed in 1912 that Earth’s continents had been as soon as a single mass—earlier than researchers pinpointed the position of E. effusa in 2015.

Hair ice.
Credit score: Nancy Morrison Alamy Inventory Photograph

By observing hair ice within the wild (and rising some in a house backyard), investigators have discovered just a few issues about its formation. Below the correct temperature and humidity situations, ice types on a department floor whereas water stays liquid contained in the wooden’s pores. The temperature distinction between the 2 states of water creates a suction that attracts liquid water to the freezing entrance—steadily extending the attain of the rising “hair.”

Research recommend that because the fungus digests a part of the wooden, it gives fragments of bigger molecules that function a scaffold on which the ice can develop. This course of can churn out hairs stretching to a size of 20 centimeters (nearly eight inches). Every strand may be as skinny as 0.02 millimeter in diameter, and a few curl or wave. They may final for days, whilst temperatures fluctuate close to the freezing level. Some researchers hypothesize that the skinny crystals are capable of endure such altering situations as a result of one thing inside the plant materials acts like an antifreeze, which may hold ice crystals from altering form even because the temperature varies. When it will get chilly outdoors yearly, scientists proceed to doc this icy thriller.