Kenneth Libbrecht
Snow Crystal I, 2006

Photomicrograph; direct digital capture

California Institute of Technology, Physics Department, Pasadena, California, United States

TThis is a photomicrograph of a natural snow crystal that fell to earth in Cochrane, Ontario. The colors were not digitally created, but were produced by shining colored lights on the crystal from behind. The ice crystal itself acts like a multiple element lens to refract the many different incident colors, producing a rainbow effect. The six-fold symmetry of a snow crystal ultimately derives from the geometry of its constituent water molecules, which hook together to form a hexagonal ice crystal lattice. Small snow crystals first grow into tiny faceted prisms, and often the six corners of a hexagonal plate sprout branches as the crystal grows larger. Because the six branches all experience the same temperature and humidity as the crystal tumbles through the clouds, they all grow in synchrony, producing the snowflake’s distinctive, symmetrical appearance.

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