About them snowflakes (or now you too can practically barf out snowflake trivia)

So like Vancouver had a major dump of snow last week, which is just not west coast at all. Predictably, all hell broke loose, and UBC even experienced a campus wide power outage at one point. Anyway, whilst looking for some things for the FILTER, I came across a really cool website that looked at snowflake morphology, called snowcrystals.com

i-087bef9fedfb50103b98ad549460c570-snowtypes4.gif

It's pretty amazing really, how convoluted the categories are - and all, of course, are dictated by the hexagonal lattice that water crystallizes at. Essentially, due to the polar "V" like structure of H2O, the most energetically favorable way of packing itself is in this six sided form.

i-3d557d9b900859906ccfe9a20edf3ba0-watermolecuul_2a.gif

From this, structures are formed in a symmetrical fashion because presumably congruent environmental conditions will exist on all six sides of this lattice. Therefore, when gaseous water becomes attached to this frozen crystalline base, it will do so in identical ways on each of the six sides. Hence, you get funky looking six sided things like these below.

i-04e3218f99c463305d05bd14236f3d0e-snowflake.jpg

How "conditions" dictate the type of snowflake produced is where the hardcore science comes into play. But to be honest, it doesn't seem like those specifics are worked out fully yet. However, what has been determined are the forms that do form under various conditions. In other words, there is data whereby the type of snowflake produced can be predicted based on the conditions available - it's just the "how does it do this?" that isn't clear.

i-12d36b747b1b077fbb86f6926f9964dc-morphologydiagram.jpg

Mind you, if you are into the hardcore physics behind all of this, you can cuddle up to this review paper, warmly titled "The Physics of Snowflakes" by Kenneth Libbrecht (this is also the dude who runs the website).

Still, a blog post wouldn't be complete without an excuse to self induce yourself into dizzyness and some serious eye strain. Luckily, (and thanks to a hat tip to inkycircus) this is easy with this topic because of some great snowflake electron microscopy stereograms from the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (although, you might have more fun telling your co-workers that they are actually "spot the difference" pictures).

i-daf52e5d685e55be936e120d5eb31498-10164_65.jpg

Go on try it. You know you want to. That's right, put your face right up to your monitor and concentrate...

* * *

Anyway, it's probably better to end this post, by simply commenting "Can't we humans do anything right?" Since a case in point is to look at man-made snow (it's, like, the ugliest thing you can imagine...)

i-2c3490cbc1e2ccdd831c1616e00d48ba-manmadesnow.jpg

Hey... this stuff isn't even a little bit pretty...


Go check out snowcrystals.com. It rocks.

More like this

Yesterday, we had a little bit of snow fall in my neck of the woods. What was cool was how the conditions must have been just perfect so that what you saw falling was actually "little six sided snowflakes." I mean, it was like a scene from a Christmas special, with flakes often as big as 3mm in…
"Lives are snowflakes - unique in detail, forming patterns we have seen before, but as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There's not a chance you'd mistake one for another, after a minute's close inspection.)" -Neil Gaiman…
There's a kind of graph which is very commonly used by people like me for analysis applications, called a lattice. A lattice is a graph with special properties that make it extremely useful for representing information in an analysis system. I've mentioned before that you can use a graph G=(V,E…
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” -Maya Angelou From questions about the smallest scales to the largest, from Earthly phenomena to things we could only conceive of in theory, our Ask Ethan series is your opportunity to have anything you ask considered for a column…