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Ice Crystals Forming Snowflakes

The ice crystals that make up the snowflakes have managed to attract the attention of many scientists from past to present. For example, in 1611, Johannes Kepler talks about the six symmetry patterns of ice crystals in an article. About 20 years from now, Rene Descartes observed the 12-sided snowflake, which is very rare in nature. Descartes underlines that the edges and angles are perfectly equal and straight, expressing how they are affected by such smoothly formed snowflakes. Snowflakes are formed in such an order that each one is surrounded on the same plane by six snowflakes formed in the same way. In his book, Micrographia, published in 1665, Robert Hooke included hand-drawn shapes of various ice crystals that make up the snowflakes. In all these publications, there was not much detail in the conditions and infrastructure at that time, the beauty of the snowflakes was explained in a poetic language. However, after the science of X-ray crystallography, which examined the crystals, was developed, the detailed shapes and structures of the snowflakes and crystals began to be examined. Real systematic work began with the Japanese nuclear physicist Ukichiro Nakaya in the 1950s. Nakaya prepared a comprehensive catalog by defining the snowflakes. He also went down in the history of science as the first scientist to obtain artificial ice crystals in the lab. In 1954, he published his book called Snow Crystals: Natural and Artificial. It is seen that this natural phenomenon is examined in this book for the first time in a scientific sense and the formation processes of the snowflakes are explained systematically.

Nowadays, we see that the physician named Kenneth Libbrecht, from California Institute of Technology, who devoted his professional life to examining snowflakes, publishes the information and photographs of natural snowflakes and many other ice crystals that he examined and documented

This researcher creates his own ice crystals in the lab or travels to cold climatic zones, Michigan, Alaska, and Ontario to obtain high-resolution microscopic images of real snowflakes. His work is fine to work that requires a lot of attention. He takes pictures after placing the snowflakes he has caught using a very small brush on a glass coverslip. In order to prevent the snowflakes from melting quickly, all these processes must be done outside in a cold environment, in freezing cold. The photos are really impressive. Thanks to these studies led by Nakaya, we now know that some atmospheric conditions such as temperature and humidity affect the formation of the shapes of the snowflakes. For example, these shapes are simpler in low humidity conditions. As the humidity increases, the shapes become more complex. So much so that when the humidity is too high, the snowflakes can be thin, long, needle-shaped as well as a wide and thin plate.

We recommend you to watch the snowflakes more carefully as well as make a snowman and slide with a sled when it snows the next time you live. Maybe there are many more snowflakes in different ways waiting to be discovered.

*Source: TÜBİTAK


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