It’s been snowing on and off here all day. I love snow, and the fact that some of it is settling makes me happy! I went out for a walk in it before (mostly to get some firewood). It’s lovely being surrounded by swirling snowflakes.

The actual snowflakes themselves are quite beauiful too. Hexagonal crystalline forms, created because of the way water molecules bind to each other when they crystallise. Crystallising in the air (homogeneous nucleation) makes them form the beautifully symmetric dendritic structures that we all know and love.

The image is from the Bentley Snow Crystal Collection, hosted at the Buffalo Museum of Science. If you have time, go and have a look. Some of them are beautiful! They were originally photographed by Wilson A. Bentley, pioneering scientist and photographer — and the first person ever to succesfully photograph snow crystals. His first photograph was taken in 1885. The images on the website (and those at the museum itself) are his unaltered original images, taken on glass slides under a microscope.

Truly beautiful.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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4 Responses to Snowflakes

  1. invaderxan says:

    Actually no. The majority of snowflakes are quite irregular, especially when large. Larger snoflakes tend to form because of two or more smaller ones sticking together. When smaller, a lot of them are indeed symmetric (although almost never perfectly so). They tend to form either hexagonal or triangular shapes.
    I’m just guessing, but this could be down to probability of additional water molecules condensing in certain places. Due to the way a crystal grows, certain sites on a crystal surface are more likely to attract further molecules. Couple this with the fact that snowflakes are airborne, so they grow in all directions (unlike frosts which grow according to what surface they’re on, as well as atmospheric conditions).
    Hope all of that wasn’t too much detail! ;)

  2. invaderxan says:

    Isn’t it just?

  3. Anonymous says:

    are they still symmetric even when the flakes are very large? why?

  4. Snow crystal photography – that is such a great idea!

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