You probably learned back in kindergarten that no two snowflakes are alike, but that’s a pretty abstract concept considering how much snow falls on this planet each year.
In fact, there’s so much snow that falls, when you’re shoveling tons of the white stuff from your driveway and off your car, or trudging through it on the way to work, it’s almost impossible to appreciate it.
Well, get ready to appreciate snow in a whole new way.
Snowflakes: Free art that falls from the sky
In the gallery below, we have 50 amazing snowflake photos — each one different, and each one carefully photographed through a macro lens.
From the breathakingly intricate to the curiously simple, resembling everything from prisms and needles to feathers and lce, every single icy crystal structure looks as if it were cut by a master artisan. These snowflakes are a wonder to behold — and even moreso when you realize that they are produced by the trillions, and even the most stunning designs need only minutes to form.
Snowflake showcase: A gallery of wintry snowflake photos
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
All of these pictures were taken by Alexey Kljatov in Russia — and we’re grateful to him for sharing them with us.
How do snowflakes form?
Here’s the science behind snow, direct from the experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A snowflake begins to form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky. This creates an ice crystal. As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals — the six arms of the snowflake.
Find out more: Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?
The science of the crystalline snowflakes
These ice crystals that make up snowflakes are symmetrical because they reflect the internal order of the crystal’s water molecules as they arrange themselves in predetermined spaces — crystallization — to form a six-sided snowflake.
Ultimately, it is the temperature at which a crystal forms — and, to a lesser extent, the humidity of the air — that determines the basic shape of the ice crystal. Thus, we see long needle-like crystals at 23 degrees F, and very flat plate-like crystals at 5 degrees F.
The intricate shape of a single arm of the snowflake is determined by the atmospheric conditions experienced by entire ice crystal as it falls. A crystal might begin to grow arms in one manner, and then minutes or even seconds later, slight changes in the surrounding temperature or humidity causes the crystal to grow in another way. Although the six-sided shape is always maintained, the ice crystal (and its six arms) may branch off in new directions. Because each arm experiences the same atmospheric conditions, the arms look identical.