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Feb 24 / Dave Schumaker

A Look at Olympic Ice

Ice viewed in polarized lightPeter Wasilewski, a NASA scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, has been studying various properties of ice and snow for the past 25 years. A new feature posted on the NASA website talks about Wasilewski’s studies. Using polarized light (which conjures up images of many a petrology lab), he can differentiate different types of ice and snow.

“Ice is different for the various Olympic sports,” Wasilewski said. “The ice is softer for figure skaters than it is for hockey players. Figure skaters need to dig in with their toe picks for jumps. Ice hockey players want the hard ice that makes the ice fast and easier to skate on. With a microscopic look at the ice using the spectrum, I’m able to see how the ice differs.”

Another interesting tidbit according to the article is that in many skiing events, Olympians prefer man made snow over that of mother nature. “Wasilewski also knows a lot about snow. He noted that snow from snow guns is not in a crystal shape, but is more like tiny snowballs. In fact, he said that sometimes Olympic events are cancelled whenever there is a lot of natural snow, because it tends to be too powdery. Powder snow tends to slow skiers and snowboarders down, so the preference is for the manmade (icier) snow or natural snow that has been processed to ensure a hard, almost icy surface for the downhill events.”

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