They fall from the sky seemingly infinite in number, the snowflake. Wilson Bentley, one of the best known snowflake photographers referred to them as “tiny miracles of beauty” or “ice flowers”. We see some of nature’s most beautiful art in these tiny gifts from the sky.
The snowflake is an ice crystal or a group of ice crystals that fall from the sky. If enough are accumulated they will form a snow pack. In northern Michigan we experience seasonal snow packs which help renew our water resources.
The recipe for a snowflake asks for a dust particle, subfreezing temperatures and moisture. Within a supersaturated air mass water droplets freeze around the dust particle forming ice crystals. These crystals appear white as they reflect the full color spectrum but are actually clear. As the particle falls through a variety of areas of varying temperatures and humidity levels they change shape. All snowflakes are hexagonal or six sided, however the pattern within the hexagon varies. Snowflakes have been classified into eight categories according to shape.
“Magono and Lee devised a classification of freshly formed snow crystals that includes 80 distinct shapes. They are listed in the following main categories (with symbol):
- Needle crystal (N) – Subdivided into: Simple and combination of needles
- Columnar crystal (C) – Subdivided into: Simple and combination of columns
- Plate crystal (P) – Subdivided into: Regular crystal in one plane, plane crystal with extensions, crystal with irregular number of branches, crystal with 12 branches, malformed crystal, radiating assemblage of plane branches
- Combination of columnar and plate crystals (CP) – Subdivided into: Column with plane crystal at both ends, bullet with plane crystals, plane crystal with spatial extensions at ends
- Columnar crystal with extended side planes (S) – Subdivided into: Side planes, scalelike side planes, combination of side planes, bullets and columns
- Rimed crystal (R) – Subdivided into: Rimed crystal, densely rimed crystal, graupellike crystal, graupel
- Irregular snow crystal (I) – Subdivided into: Ice particle, rimed particle, broken piece from a crystal, miscellaneous
- Germ of snow crystal (G) – Subdivided into: Minute column, germ of skeleton form, minute hexagonal plate, minute stellar crystal, minute assemblage of plates, irregular germ” Wikipedia – Snowflake
For a better look go to SnowCrystals.com.
I am completely captivated by this snow magic. When we got to the chapter on polygons I taught my fourth graders that hexagons are the strongest shape in nature. We would eat honeycomb and take magnifying glasses outside to check out the snowflakes that fell on our sleeves and hands. I still like doing this with my grandson or on my own. I imagine there are many of us that inspect snowflakes.
Wilson Alwyn Bentley of Jericho, Vermont became a professional admirer of snowflakes. After a great deal of experimentation Bentley captured his first image of a single snowflake in 1885. He had attached a microscope to a bellows camera and photographed ice crystals as they fell on black velvet. He took 5,ooo images of snowflakes over his life time. His images are highly valued. In 1931 Mr. Bentley wrote the book, “Snow Crystals” featuring 2,400 images. Bentley’s love of snowflakes and marvelous work gave him the name, ‘Snowflake Bentley’. There is a wonderful children’s book by that name.
Can you pick a favorite? I doubt it, they are truly ‘tiny miracles of beauty’.
Grab your magnifying glass and check out the designs falling in your backyard.