Open Thread: Snow Flakes

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    • TMC on January 28, 2011 at 4:24 am
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    • Eddie C on January 28, 2011 at 4:49 am

    • RUKind on January 29, 2011 at 5:53 am

    From Chet Raymos’ Honey from Stone:

    “Has the mystery of the snowflake, then, been entirely plumbed? Certainly not! Physicists are content that they can explain the hexagonal symmetry of the crystals, but they can say little about the delicacy of the branching and the extraordinary congruity of the six points. For these things, science has provided only the beginning of an understanding. It is clear that particles of airborne dust provide the nuclei about which snowflake crystals begin to grow. Without dust, there would be no snow.

    …But the apparent stability of the ice crystal, like the apparent fixity of the mountain, is an illusion…faults in the crystal-places where there are extra hydrogen atoms or missing atoms-jump from place to place like unruly children in a teacher’s classroom. And somehow, in the midst of this atomic caprice, the snowflake acquires and retains an ordered form. We are in the face of one of nature’s most profound mysteries: how beauty and structure arise from a delicate balance of order and disorder.

    …Physicists can only guess at how symmetry is maintained across the whole crystal as molecules of water attach themselves at random around the crystal’s growing edge. Some physicists think that vibrations of the crystalline lattice are the instruments of communication, vibrations that are extremely sensitive to the shape of the crystal. If this is so, then the growing snowflake maintains its symmetry in the same way that members of an orchestra stay in consonance, by sharing the sound of an ensemble. The snowflake’s beauty, then, is orchestral! The facultas formatrix is vibration. Nature shudders in its sublimity. Atoms dance to inaudible music. The cloud jams. The rock jives. The lake’s still surface boogie-woogies.”

    It’s one of the best – no, it’s the best – book I’ve read by a naturalist. Raymo is truly gifted with knowledge, language and a sense of awe of Creation. I give this book six stars.

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