Lovely snowflakes, they fall nowhere else! Zen saying
Consider a snowflake, individual and ephemeral.
Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931) spent his entire life studying and photographing snowflakes on his farm outside Joshua, Vermont. He rigged up a microscope and bellows camera and worked in a cold barn, capturing the first microphotographs of snowflakes. Known as "The Snowflake Man," Bentley produced over 5000 photographs of snow crystals.
His book--Snow Crystals-- is still a reference today. The original is out of print, but a paperback reprint is available from Dover Publications.
There is a website dedicated to Wilson Bentley's life and work. You can also read more about him here. There is also a Caldecott medal-winning book for kids. Snowflake Bentley is a picture book written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian.
Bentley's study of snowflakes, and their infinite variety, led him to state, "no two snowflakes are alike." Indeed, he discovered that the form and shape varies with weather conditions.
Snow is formed when water vapor in clouds freezes into ice crystals. Snowflakes, or snow crystals, are all six-sided.
Why is this? It is the nature of water--the two hydrogen atoms bonding with oxygen. The water molecule has a tetrahedron (3-sided) form. As water freezes, the tetrahedrons crystallize into a six-ring structure.
Here's how NOAA explains the diversity of snowflakes--
Ultimately, it is the temperature at which a crystal forms — and to a lesser extent the humidity of the air — that determines the basic shape of the ice crystal. Thus, we see long needle-like crystals at 23 degrees F and very flat plate-like crystals at 5 degrees F (emphasis mine). The intricate shape of a single arm of the snowflake is determined by the atmospheric conditions experienced by the entire ice crystal as it falls.
A crystal might begin to grow arms in one manner, and then minutes or even seconds later, slight changes in the surrounding temperature or humidity causes the crystal to grow in another way. Although the six-sided shape is always maintained, the ice crystal (and its six arms) may branch off in new directions. Because each arm experiences the same atmospheric conditions, the arms look identical.
Individual snowflakes follow different paths from the sky, encountering slightly different atmospheric conditions along the way. That's why they tend to look unique, prisms or needles or lacy patterns.
I hope you are inspired by the science of snowflakes, how they form, why they are so different. The story of Wilson Bentley is inspiring, too. One person, in his dedication, patience and vision, shared beauty and information with the world. He never made much money with his snowflake photos, and they are now all in the public domain.
Almost as ephemeral as Bentley's snowflakes, there are Hiroshige winter prints currently on display at The Art Institute of Chicago. But don't wait too long. Like the snow, they will soon be gone. These snowy prints will be on display until March 20.
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