Aug 22, 2009

The Snowflake

Winter's Secret Beauty
by Kennth Libbrecht

Stunningly beautiful, The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty is a book all about snowflakes, or snow crystals- particularly how they are formed, and why there is such an enormous variety of pattern combinations that no two identical snowflakes have ever been observed (although two very close ones are pictured on pp. 28-29). There's even a bit of history: the first recorded observations of snowflakes were made by Descartes in 1637, the earliest snowflake photographs in 1885 by Wilson Bentley. A lot of this book is physics, and even though the information is presented clearly, I had to read some passages several times over. I learned so many fascinating things: what makes the halo around the moon, how scientists can make clouds produce rainfall, and what can suspend an ice crystal long enough to grow a snowflake in a laboratory- a rabbit's hair! The nucleus of a snowflake is actually a dust particle, and they are formed by the growth of ice crystals, very similar to how mineral crystals grow. The formation of snowflakes is affected very precisely by humidity and temperature- so a snowfall will often have all of a similar kind of snowflake, and when conditions change, the shape of the flakes changes, too. Although most of the photographs in this book are of beautiful, intricate and neatly symmetrical snowflakes, the great majority of snow crystals are actually irregular, small or deformed. It was really interesting to read about the methods photographer Patricia Rasmussen used to capture the images, too. You can see some of the gorgeous snow crystal photographs and read more about Libbrecht's work here. And the most wonderful thing? the author is a scientist who studies snowflakes not for any practical reason, but simply to understand their beauty, as aptly described in these two quotes included in the book:

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. - Jules Henri Poincare

What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. - Richard P. Feynman
Rating: 4/5 ........ 112 pages, 2003

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  1. Unbelievable! They really do make a book about just anything you could imagine. More amazing is that it is really a good book! That is the beauty of ever would I have known about this book otherwise?

  2. I had to click over and look at the gorgeous pictures! I've never lived anywhere that gets much snow, so I know next to nothing about it. This book sounds fascinating.

  3. This sounds fantastic! And wow, I love the pictures.


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