Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cool July Thoughts

Today, on a blog I frequent sometimes, one of the denizens, a fundamentalist christian who seems to be trolling about there, went on about the factoid that
"No two snowflakes are alike and this proves the complexity of gods creation."
How many times have you heard a simplistic statement like this? Usually followed by a self satisfied smug grin.
I offered to inform her as to how snowflakes were actually formed and the real fantastic reality of the world we live in.
So, I found these nifty pictures taken by Wilson A. Bentley in the late 1800's in Vermont. he actually coined the phrase "No two snowflakes are alike."
He was wrong and this is the explanation I put together for her:

Snow forms when water vapour is exposed to very low temperatures (such as at the tops of clouds) and turns into ice.

The “classical” snowflake has six spokes radiating out from a common centre, in the same way that the spokes of a bicycle wheel radiate out from the central hub. But this star-pattern is only one of the many possible shapes. The shapes vary depending on the temperature, closeness to other snowflakes, wind, and so on. For example, if you drop the temperature from 0°C down to -25°C, and keep everything else constant, you will see snowflake shapes running through hexagonal plates, needles, hollow prisms, plates, stellar dendrites (the “classical” star shape), back to plates again, and finishing up with solid prisms.

The forces that induce water molecules to leap from one ice crystal face to land on another ice crystal face, seem to be very reliant on the local temperature. This helps explain why there are so many different shapes.

As a snowflake falls, it tumbles through many different environments. So the snowflake that you see on the ground is deeply affected by the different temperatures, humidities, velocities, turbulences, etc, that it has experienced on the way. Most snowflakes would have slightly different flight paths, and so they would have different shapes. Of course, snowflakes that land near each other tend to have similar histories.

Wilson A. Bentley, a farmer who was born, lived and died in the small town of Jericho in Vermont was called “The Snowflake Man”. He supported this “all snowflakes are different” theory. Around 1884, at the age of 19, he became the first person to photograph a single ice crystal, by cleverly marrying a microscope to a camera, using an adjustable bellows mechanism. In 1920, the American Meteorological Society elected him to the state of Fellow. They also awarded him their very first research grant, in recognition of his “40 years of extremely patient work” - for which they gave him $25. He continued working in this field until his death in 1931, by which time he had taken 5,381 “photomicrographs” of individual snowflakes. Towards the end of his life, he said that he had “never seen two snowflakes alike”. And so the story arose that all snowflakes are different.

But in 1988, the scientist Nancy Knight (at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado) was studying wispy high altitude cirrus clouds. Her research plane was collecting snowflakes on a chilled glass slide that was coated with a sticky oil. She found two identical (under a microscope, at least) snowflakes in a Wisconsin snowstorm.

They were hollow hexagonal prisms, rather than the classical six-spoked star-shapes – but as far as snowologists are concerned, they counted as snowflakes. But if you want to be pedantic, they probably weren't identical if you were to look at the actual molecules – but at this level, is anything identical?

Since the earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago, about a million million million million million snowflakes have fallen – but Mr. Bentley made his pronouncement of the cold hard facts after looking at just over 5,000 of them.


Anonymous said...


Notwithsatnding that there are infimited variations, given the trillions of snowflakes falling each year, some are bound to be identical.


microdot said...

Yes, and where are you going with this? That was my point here, is this irony?

Anonymous said...

From Engineer of Knowledge

Hello Microdot,
Don’t you just hate it when scientific facts over ride evangelical faith. As I have said before about the marquee in front of a Fundamentalist Evangelical Church saying, “Knowledge is the Enemy of Faith!”

Yes, keep them uneducated and they will believe anything spoon feed from an authority figure. That is how Bush wins two elections.

microdot said...

And we are going to work hard to keep Bush from winning a third!
Actually, John McCain is doing a pretty good job of it this week, but with all the velvet gloved treatment he gets...for example, the CBS editing of his gaffe in Katy Courics interview last night...
We have got to work harder!

I have gotten the inkling that Monsieur Loop is a rational man, so I am not sure that he was defending creationism in his comment. I just found it puzzling.