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Snowflake Exploration Resources


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Snowflake Explorers

For as long as humans have inhabited the Earth we have been both fascinated and frustrated by snow, ice and adverse weather conditions. With the invention of the microscope, the tiny mysterious crystals of ice have been brought into focus as stunningly beautiful...and still quite mysterious.

Thanks to the efforts, imaginations and talents of artic explorers and scientists, the mystery of the snowflake and ice crystal formation is becoming, well, less mysterious with each passing day. Snow crystal classification is important for determining snow conditions. For instance, very heavy snow can cause roofs of houses and buildings to cave in, make tree limbs snap and break power lines.

Ski resorts and other winter vacation spots depend upon heavy snowfall and blizzards to keep their ski slopes packed full of good, soft, skiable snow. When they don't get enough snow some resorts make their own snow with snow-making machines.

Modern Day and Early Snow Crystal Scientific Explorers

Snowstorms develop when warm, moist air collides with cold air. Blizzards are heavy falling snow storms that come with high winds that blow the snow so hard sometimes you can't see anything around you.

Blizzards are very dangerous snow conditions for people driving cars or trucks or flying in airplanes. Crystal classification helps predict such adverse conditions.

The scientists and explorers have all contributed toward our collective knowledge of snow conditions.

Snowflake Discovery

Snow Flake Studies

Early Snowflake Scientific Characterizations & Illustrations

  • 1611 - German astronomer Johannes Kepler The Six-Cornered Snowflake. Kepler wrote a short pamphlet entitled "Strena Seu de Nive Sexangula" (A New Year's gift of Hexagonal Snow) in 1611 for a friend. Kepler wrote about the hexagonal symmetry of snowflakes and most efficient ways to package spherical objects, such as apples and oranges. This treatis later became known as the Kepler conjecture. Kepler studied the snowflake very carefully and thoroughly even though he had said that to care for such a trifle was like Socrates measuring the hop of a flea.
  • 1635 - Philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, The Geometry of René Descartes. In 1611 he published a small book entitled "The Six-Cornered Snowflake" in which he proposed that the hexagonal shape originates from water particles in the snow crystal.
  • 1665 - English Polymath Robert Hooke published "Micrographia" which contained many images which could be viewed through the newly invented microscope.
  • 1910 - Russian Meterologist Shuchukevich, while studying falling snow near Leningrad, noted 246 different types of crystals over a 176 day period.
  • 1872 - Irish Scientist John Tyndall published the book The Forms of Water in Clouds and Rivers Ice and Glaciers in which he described snowflakes and explained how molecules bond to each other.
  • 1931 - The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley. Wilson A. Bentley photographed about 5,000 snow crystal images.
  • 1954 - Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya published a book entitled Snow Crystals: Natural and Artificial. He was the first person to perform a true systematic study of Shimo no hana [Frost flowers], or snow crystals by growing artificial snow crystals in the laboratory under controlled conditions.
  • 1966 - Magono and Lee extend the Nakaya Snowflake Classification chart from 41 classes to 80 in Meteorological classification of natural snow crystals.
  • French physicist Jean-Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan, also The Galileo Project

Earliest Mentions of Snow Crystals in Literature

Earliest documented evidence for exploration of snow shapes and formation:

  • First mention of the hexagonal form in relation to a snow crystal was made in China by Han Ying in 135 BC, in the publication "Hanshi waizhuan" (Moral Discourses Illustrating the Han text of the "Book of Odes").

    "Flowers of plants and trees are in general five-pointed. However, flowers of snow, which are called ying, are always six-pointed."

  • Twelfth Century philosopher Zhu Xi theorized why snowflakes are always six-sided when he wrote:

    "The reason why snowflakes are six-pointed is because they are only half-frozen rain (xian) (i.e. water) split open by violent winds, and so they must be six-pointed. If one throws a lump of mud on the ground it will splash into a radiating, angular petal-like form. Now 6 is a yin number; and gypsum also is six-pointed with sharp prismatic angular edges. Everything is due to the number inherent in nature. "

  • Wang Kui wrote in "Lihaiji" in c.1390:

    "Snow is the ultimate (state) of yin and completely possesses the number of Water (i.e. 6). Every snow-flake is six-pointed. Frost and snow are due to the condensation of rain and dew. Water is is generatd by Metal. A surplus of qi reveals the Mother (i.e. Metal). Hence frost and snow are all white."

William Scoresby

In 1951 the International Commission on Snow and Ice created a classification system to identify the seven basic forms of snow crystals. This chart included results and data from Snowflake Bentley and other early ice explorers.

In 1966, snow scientists, Magono and Lee, conducted field work on weather conditions, moisture and temperature and developed their own snowflake class charts.

Modern day snow scientist, Ken Libbrecht continues to contribute to the advancement of snow studies with his published charts of snowflake classifications and related important scientific discoveries.

Publications:

  • Haeckel's Art Forms from Nature CD-ROM and Book (Dover Electronic Clip Art
  • 1665 -- Robert Hooke Micrographia
  • The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley, More than 2 were published in 1931
  • Snow, by Ruth Kirk
  • Snow Crystals: Natural and Artificial Nakaya Snowflake Classifications
  • Winter Sign
  • Octavo.com a rare manuscript publisher
  • Snowflakes by Kenneth G. Libbrecht, the current world expert in snow and ice studies.

Modern Snowflake Explorers

Weather Watchers

Early Snowflake Scientific Characterizations & Illustrations

Historical Snowflake Controversies

Source: Earliest Mentions: Li, Qi and Shu: An Introduction to Science and Civilization in China (Dover Science Books).

Snowflakes