Snowflake formation

Stellar dendrite snow crystal

The forecasts predicting snow for this weekend were wrong, but it reminded me of a question I had – why would snowflakes form symmetrically?   How does one individual branch “know” how the other 5 are growing?   It turns out that the local conditions (temperature, altitude, etc) govern the crystal growth, and that snowflakes are different because of their trajectories through the atmosphere. Any one snowflake sees the same conditions and will grow in a symmetric fashion (though the majority of snowflakes are actually irregular)

Kenneth Libbrecht is a physicist studying snowflake formation, and has a great website discussing this, with great micrographs of snowflakes.   He also has a paper The physics of snow crystals.

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