This January’s unseasonably warm weather left our snow shovel resting by the back door. It’s great, because unless I’m pulling a sled back up the hill below the farmhouse at Dad’s, I don’t much like tramping through the white stuff, scraping off my vehicles, or driving on slick roads. Still, I’m ready to trade the rain that has kept us pumping our basement for some snowflakes.
If and when we finally get more snow, maybe we should take a closer look. Since most of us probably don’t see the snowflakes for the snow, I’m dazzled as I note the remarkable photographs of Kenneth Libbrecht. Featured in the latest issue of Audubon magazine, Libbrecht magnifies the delicate work of nature’s paintbrush capturing the amazing beauty of snowflakes for all to see.
A physicist at Caltech, he uses a microscopic digital camera that he built especially for his task and works fast since fallen snowflakes begin to evaporate immediately. Snow crystals form as water molecules gather around dust particles. Generally falling into one of seven basic types, the growth of a snowflake depends on varying combinations of humidity and temperature. Libbrecht says such diversity of flake formations is part of the fun of studying them.
Libbrecht compares snowflake observation to birdwatching, and, like birding, he notes it’s more fun if you have a guidebook. Conveniently, Libbrecht’s own book, The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty, is made to order. The Audubon article notes that an abbreviated field guide is available at his Web site (www.snowcrystals.com). 1 Worth a look, this site covers the world of snowflakes from photos and books to science and activities.
While those flakes fly, catch one on a dark surface and check it out through the lens of a magnifying glass. Seeing these minuscule beauties is a winter version of stopping to smell the roses.
1 Jennifer Bogo, “Artistry in Ice,” Audubon, January – February 2005, pp. 32 – 35.