TNB Night Owl – Snowflakes

Winter in the Wiehengebirge near the Heidbrink. Photo by Falk Oberdorf.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the overused and unimaginative insult; I’m addressing actual snowflakes: small ice crystals prone to form around a single mote of dust and drift to the ground under the proper atmospheric conditions of humidity and temperature.

It’s common knowledge that no two snowflakes are the same. What is unusual is that this widely known fact, unlike the vast majority of such, is true. While many are similar, each flake consists of roughly 10 to the 18th power; or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000; water molecules. Combine that with the occasional bits of deuterium which are found in snowflake water molecules and it’s a safe call to say that each flake is effectively unique.

That bit of wonder is typically lost on people who are in the middle of multi-foot snowfalls, or anyone whose socks have become wet from slush. So it seemed prudent to wait until the contiguous United States was out of the grip of yearly snowfalls before bringing forth tonight’s slideshow.

The theory of snowflake individuality was first popularized by Wilson A. Bentley, a Vermont farmer armed his curiosity, a microscope and a camera. At age 19, after multiple attempts, he managed to capture the first successful photo of a snowflake.

The year was 1885, and he was just getting started. Bentley proceeded to take thousands of pictures through the decades until his death in 1931, and his images have been stored at the Smithsonian as a national treasure. He demonstrated that flakes hold a variety of shapes including the commonly known stars as well as needles and columns, that they are not always symmetrical, and above all that no flakes seemed to be exactly the same.

It’s a minor thing – but as with many minor things, it opened the door to entirely new avenues of scientific research. Because of Bentley’s observations, questions arose about exactly how snow and why snow forms, and as answers were found they enhanced our ability to predict when snowfalls will happen and their severity.

But above all, he left us with some beautiful images. They’ve been reproduced in a number of books, but I thought someone would likely have put them into a Youtube slideshow… and a quick check of that public archive confirmed my suspicions.

Question of the night: What was your most pleasant snow experience this last year?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.