31 August 2012

Very Mysterious

See this picture? It's a mystery. One of those "name that object" ones. What? You think it's an ice cube tray? Well, yeah, that was moderately obvious. No, I don't mean the tray. I mean those strange and vaguely improper-looking spikes sticking out of the ice cubes. Do you have any idea what they are? I sure don't.

Those spikes just started appearing on my ice cubes this summer. I really have no idea what does this. Well, okay, I have some idea, a guess. Incidentally, they're not drips from the top of the freezer; that was my first thought, and I checked if there was anything dripping. But you see how they're pointing in all different directions; if they were stalagmites - or is it stalactites? - they'd be straight up and down. Perpendicular, like the gothic architecture ("This is a peh-fect exah-mple of an ice spike of the ah-citechture of the peh-pendicular period."). But they're not. The front one, in this case, is at a 45° angle, at least; no drip could be causing that. And after I used up these particular spiky ice cubes to impart a pleasing chill to my preferred summer beverage (I like iced tea, American style - just brew some tea and dump it on ice cubes. Takes the spikes off in no time flat, and is marvellously cooling. Aaaah.), I made more ice cubes, and every once in a while, they'd throw out these spikes again. And every time, they'd be pointing off in all direction at weird angles.

So here is what I think those spikes might be: I figure they're eruptions from the ice cube's core. The other day, I opened the freezer to get some more tea chillin' materials, and there was a loudish crack from the ice cube tray. Several of the ice cubes had split down the middle and just about jumped out of the tray, and there were a couple more of those spikes sticking out of the cubes. See, I think what happens is that when the ice cubes aren't 100% frozen, and someone opens the freezer (which happens more frequently at this time of year; see "iced tea" above), the still-slightly-warmer water in the core of the cube expands, and gets shot out through a tiny hole in the layer of ice covering the cube. And then it must, I don't know, flash-freeze or something, to form these spikes. I wouldn't have thought this was possible, but there's the evidence, right here in my freezer. And it's the most logical explanation I can come up with.

The funny thing about this is that quite probably, if you tried to replicate this phenomenon in your chemistry lab's lunch kit freezer, you wouldn't be able to. There's likely some weird combination of conditions that's in place in my freezer, or even in that particular spot in my freezer (eight inches from the left on the top shelf beside the ice cream and in front of the dish of lemon juice), which, together with the prevailing atmospheric conditions and the fact that Venus and Jupiter appeared together in the early morning sky for several weeks, created ideal ice cube spiking scenarios.

None of this really matters, does it? I just thought it was curious. And those spikes look decorative, don't they?

Life, the Universe, and Ice Cube Tray Mysteries. If you can think of a better explanation than mine, do tell.

Addendum Jan. 4, 2016: The mystery has been solved! What we're dealing with is ice spikes, and here is the Wikipedia article that explains how they're formed: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_spike (the article wasn't written until a year or two after this blog post, that's why I couldn't find anything about it online). Finally, a solution!


  1. Oooooh. I wonder if there is stop-motion video of such an event to be found out there on the interwebz. My kids would LOVE that! I mean, ice eruptions in someone's freezer?!?! (Though I would have to consider the mess they would make during all the inevitable experiments.) Hmmm....

    1. Yes, there is now! (three years later, but still...) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ice_spike_growing_in_ice_cube_tray_in_refrigerator.ogv

  2. I know, right? I mean, I could see water erupting from the middle of ice cubes, but what amazes me is that it actually freezes in place.

  3. How bizarre! But it's cool. Maybe a sci-fi in the works. :D <3