Friday, January 7, 2011

Are Snowflakes Beautiful and Unique?

It snowed last night, though just a dusting.  That's the big picture.  The little picture is a single flake, which we've all heard is both beautiful and unique.

But is that true? Yes, true and true.

To see just how stunningly beautiful a single flake can be, link to, a part of the Cal Tech website, and look at photos, taken with a photomicroscope, in Galleries I, II, and III. If you are intrigued, forget everything else on your schedule—work, Swiffering the kitchen floor, picking up the kids after school?—and explore the SnowCrystals website. For example, “Guide to Snowflakes” contains a chart of 35 common types or varieties followed by several stunning photos of each. To link to SnowCrystals, CLICK HERE.

For a mathematical analysis of snowflakes, check out the recent Urban Jungle column, “Certainly, absolutely, positively unique,” in the Washington Post. The numbers at the end of the five paragraphs will help you appreciate just what “unique” means in the context of “snowflake.” To go to Urban Jungle, CLICK HERE.

Enjoy the snow, and while you’re sweeping the sidewalk, forget your aching back and reflect on the beauty of those unique flakes you’re brushing away.  But if you're going to sweep your walk, do it quickly.  The sun will warm things up soon, and this dusting will be only a memory.


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