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Snow Flakes
Nature Bulletin No. 48   January 12, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

SNOW FLAKES
"Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" So, according to Moses, God challenged Job to answer. Have YOU ?

Some day examine the snow crystals that fall upon your coat sleeve. Use a magnifying glass. Do not touch or breathe upon them, for then they will disappear into a smudge of scattered fragments or a droplet of mist. Each one is a gem of delicate, lace-like symmetry, each one hexagonal and each one perfect, yet each one of a different intricate design. W. A. Bentley, of Jericho, Vermont, made micro-photographs of 4800 snow crystals, no two of which are alike.

If they fall from high, very cold clouds, they are tiny and either six- sided columns or three-sided plates. If they fall from low, comparatively warm clouds then they are larger -- perhaps as much as one-half inch in diameter -- and several are apt to be combined into one big flake. The individual crystal will be either a six-pointed star, or a solid hexagon with six identical inlaid designs, or a combination of the two.

The scientists mutter in their beards that the richness of design is caused by minute air tubes; and that the hexagonal form is due to the fact that a molecule of water is composed of 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen, crystallized directly from vapor into solid form. Had they gone through a liquid stage, these snow crystals would be lumps of hail or sleet -- not doilies knitted in the clouds, stitch by stitch.

What the scientist cannot answer is why, in each crystal, its own peculiar pattern is repeated perfectly on each of its six sides. No mineral crystals approach the beauty, diversity and perfect symmetry of snow. The philosopher sees here a key to the growth, variety and pattern of life itself.


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