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Stunning images of snowflakes under a (frozen) microscope [20 pictures]

August 20, 2012 | By Abraham | 64 comments

Researchers at Beltsville Agricultural Research Center have gathered samples of snow from around the country and are studying them under a microscope. To keep the flakes in their original shape, they’re viewed on a surface that has been chilled to -170 Celsius, or -224 Fahrenheit. (The microscope they use is understatedly labeled “low-temperature.”)

Here are some of the amazing images coming from their research…

On an interesting side note, man-made snow doesn’t vary in shape like natural snow does, and, in fact, doesn’t even look like natural snow at all when magnified. It’s just little blobs…

(via The Daily Mail)

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64 Comments

        1. Max says:

          Are you implying God explains how the universe came to exist?

          Why not make up a different story, like maybe there is no universe at all. Maybe everything you perceive is just an elaborate game created by aliens to entertain themselves. Or maybe, and I’m going way out on a limb here, the universe only exists because you exist. Maybe we’re all inter-dimensional energy that is constantly moving and traveling from one plane of existence to another. Maybe life, and all we see in it is really just a dream.

          You might not believe it, but it makes as much sense as a supreme being creating the universe, doesn’t it?

          Neither can be proved, so it doesn’t matter.

        2. Scruffy says:

          Really? That one again? You religious people really have no imagination at all, do you? The universe didn’t come into existence because of a god who doesn’t give shit about all the suffering in the world but spends his time one doodling snowflakes… It came into existence because of natural phenomena such as the big bang, which, unlike most of you think, isn’t impossible because there was ‘nothing’ and ‘nothing’ exploded. Quantum mechanics actually proved that the big bang theory can be considered fact because it proved the existence of vacuum, completely empty, space, and in that absolute nothingness sometimes atoms appear. They do disappear too but it proves that something can appear out of nothing, therefore proving a big bang, whether it happened or not, can have occurred therefore again proving there’s probably no god at all.

          1. Mikey says:

            And scientists have made duplicable observations of atoms being created from nothing? If science is your guide shouldn’t you rely on the scientific method to assert your claim as factual?

        3. Adam says:

          Then explain how god came into existence. Something of such irreducible complexity can only be created by something of even greater complexity and knowledge. Therefore if god created the universe then something had to create god, and something had to create that creator and so on and so forth. It’s ridiculous none of these questions can be answered and you’re a fool to think saying ‘God did it’ is any form of answer. I’m sure you have no clue as to the origins of your so called god or why you even call it god.

    1. Karen says:

      I find it very interesting that “your” god micromanages the creation of snowflakes while forgetting about the starvation and suffering around the world. Not too awesome in my book.

      1. Verifiably Uninteresting says:

        OMG SOMEONE SAID SOMETHING ON THE INTERNET ABOUT GOD I BETTER FLAME THEM TO SHOW THEM HOW STUPID THEY ARE LOL OMG IDK

        1. Nick says:

          Yes but we don’t claim that physics is a conscious being that creates things and controls them out of its own will, do we.

      2. Christian says:

        God doesn’t “forget.” There is “starvation and suffering around the world” because people sin and because we do evil and brought evil into the world. It’s man’s fault. Do not blame our wrongdoings on God.

        1. Alekhios says:

          and “god” made you a sinner and gave you everything for you to be one, even Logic. It doesn’t make sense, but if you throw “god” out of the equation everything does make sense completely.

        2. JLD says:

          Of course the evil and suffering is all out fault, no one writing that actually thinks god exits. They are stating that if he does exist and he doesn’t help suffering children, he stands by whist people bomb each other and rape one another, to teach us a “lesson” then he is more messed up than anyone on this planet.

          For example – if I had the power to change the world, what would I do? Would I first look at who deserved it and who didn’t like some power mad santa clause? No I would just change it for the better because I could. But what about all those evil people… I’d make them nice… what about redemption… why does that matter everyones all cool now? But the pedophiles… not anymore, I fixed their brains. You mean everyone is just happy and has enough to eat. Yes.

          However if you changed it, you would want everyone to throw away sin and accept god first right? Because that’s what god would do and you have his power now so you better use it like he would… right? if you can’t see why that’s messed up logic then god help you, although I wouldn’t count on that.

        3. Nick says:

          so, those children dying in africa are sinners…. or the kids that are dying with cancer right now… are sinners too….

          LOGIC.. I MEAN WOW

      3. JTrain says:

        2 Corinthians 4:4 (New Living Translation (NLT)
        4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
        When Adam and Eve fell from grace in the Garden of Eden Adam turned his authority over to satan. satan is currently in authority over the planet, hence the suffering we see. God sees all starvation and suffering around the world, but it aint his rodeo. He doesn’t have the authority to to do anything without us asking. That is why its important for us to pray. That GIVES Him the authority to intervene. God loves people and weeps over the human condition. WE are here on earth and are supposed to attend to them for him. He loves you more than anyone else ever has. You can’t do anything to make Him love you more and you sure can’t do anything for Him to love you less. He sees you as beautiful and perfect the way you already are. Religion sucks and has confused people with condemnation. That’s not Jesus. He loves and accepts you for who you are. I apologize in proxy for all the sucky christians you have known.

    2. S.Stern says:

      Starving children in africa? Disease and desertification? Human suffering and the depletion of the environment?

      NAW man, snowflakes.
      and football – tebow and all that.

    3. Carl Sagan says:

      “We repeatedly discover that natural processes, collisional selection of worlds, say, or natural selection of gene pools, or even the convection pattern in a pot of boiling water, can extract order out of chaos, and decieve us into decuding purpose where there is none.”

  1. Beepage says:

    Not to distract from the religious debate to follow but this is truly remarkable on any level. Are there any pure mathematicians out there who can explain why these form the way they do and why artificial snow “blobs?”

    1. John S. NYC says:

      I’m not a mathematician or a scientist but my best guess would be that when a drop of rain; the 2 hydrogen molecules and 1 oxygen molecule (water) freeze, it’s new state is created as such (snow flake) and is a direct result of the new bond that is formed from the transformation from a liquid to a solid. In addition, that might have to do with the two atomic numbers of 1 from Hydrogen freeze with the atomic number 8, oxygen, they create this magnificent form; a snow flake.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Properties_of_water

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen

      1. Beepage says:

        Thanx John, I was wondering about why the “bonding” of the molecules form certain patterns and if there are any “hard-wired” formulas that dictate the formation of said patterns?

        1. John S. NYC says:

          Right Beepage, I think you’re definitely on the right track. I would say yes there probably is in fact a formula that makes this so. I would be interested to know myself. My knowledge on this particular subject is ‘topped out’ at this point haha.

          1. Josh says:

            Hey guys, your discussion is far too rational, calm, and informed. If you could incorporate more misspellings, terrible grammar, senseless reasonings, and mindless insults, it would be much easier for me to follow. Thanks.

        2. Sierra says:

          Look up hydrogen bonds. The polarity created amongst the hydrogens by sharing their electrons to the valence shell of the oxygen creates a weak (compared to an electron bond the hydrogen has with the oxygen) but still very real attractive force with the oxygens of other H2O molecules. Because of the bond angle of two hydrogens on an oxygen, when the temperature lowers these molecules line up in a hexagonal arrangement. This is also what helps give surface tension to water. It’s pretty fascinating. I hope this explanation made sense – I’m remembering back to something I studied briefly 6 years ago so I am bit rusty on the subject.

          1. Beepage says:

            Yeah, so…a little late reading your answer. Obviously, I have been thinking about it incessantly. ANYWAY, your explanation is helpful. Now, why does artificial snow “blob”? Isn’t it made up of the same “ingredients?”

      2. sarcaustic says:

        If you’re not a mathematician or a scientist, you’re in the wrong profession. Unless you’re a teacher. ty

    2. grignard12 says:

      The snowflakes form the shape that they do because the snowflakes are water molecules that crystallize around an impurity in clouds, so they form ordered structures depending on numerous conditions. The man-made snow is flash frozen water droplets so they don’t form crystal lattice structures, same as when you freeze an ice cube in the freezer. The speed at which the man made snow is frozen does not allow for the lattice formation. As for being able to model the shape of the molecules, of course it’s possible, but it would take a supercomputer a long time to do it. This is very difficult because each molecule of water must be modeled along with a large number of variables for each molecule. This task isn’t feasible short of a quantum computer.

  2. Duska says:

    It WOULD be great to know the scientific explanation behind the intricacy and symmetry of the snowflake! It would serve to enhance my awe of how awesome our God is! He is the ultimate mathematician and scientist.

    1. Jpeg says:

      If God did exist, I might consider refraining from calling him a mathematician or a scientist. I don’t think he would need symbols to express his laws, he would simply remember what he did. Also, scientists generally put forth effort to better understand the world. God wouldn’t need to do that, I don’t believe.

      But then, perhaps. Perhaps if God existed he would have developed symbols, perhaps in order to explain his laws to our early mathematicians. Sort of like that ridiculous show Ancient Aliens.

      But. Maybe God sat about his den for several hours and contemplated how he was going to create the universe, before he actually created it, and maybe he came up with an interesting, artistic method for making a universe that tended to make sense to logical minds. But then, perhaps the universe doesn’t make sense, at the most basic levels. Perhaps this was intended as a joke. Or perhaps just a fun puzzle.

  3. Ben says:

    Snow is water. Take a small puddle of water and make it smaller and smaller; what do you get? A drop. And what is that shaped like? A sphere. When you pack spheres together, like pool balls for instance, the designs they make are based on what shapes? Triangles and hexagons. Hence, snow comes in 3-, 6-, and sometimes, 12-sided patterns.

    As for the complex shapes, you’d have to ask a meteorologist. Apparently, many are super rare and formed by unlikely meteorological conditions. Rest assured, though, it can be explained entirely by science without turning to some deity.

      1. S.Stern says:

        “Oh… And I believe in God. And I know science… And have a degree in science…
        We exist.”

        Of course you do, there’s a phrase for it – cognitive dissonance.

      2. grignard12 says:

        And our faith is stronger than those Christians that negate science, for we believe so strongly that God exists, that we believe nothing that is discovered will disprove that. God wants us to fearlessly explore and discover new things.

        1. JTrain says:

          Grignard, that was a refreshing comment to say the least! Yes indeed, God is NOT afraid of science! The more that is discovered points to His Magnificense! The religious spirit that is on many christians is the biggest reason people turn away from the Good News. Jesus accepted and loved people, He didn’t condemn and judge them.

  4. Giovanni says:

    Okay, just because you can’t explain something doesn’t mean God is present. And just because you CAN explain something doesn’t mean God is not present.

    Explained or not, rainbows are beautiful and so is learning more about them.

    Marvel at how anything exists at all, shouldn’t we? There may yet be a God. No one knows.

  5. Julie says:

    And I just heard (and yes, it was a MOVIE) but the comment was “nature doesn’t draw in straight lines” and I thought, what a dumb comment. Yes, she does!

  6. Murray says:

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20, NIV

    1. older and wiser now….. says:

      Murray’s reply about God’s invisible qualities, Romans 1:20, taken directly from God’s own word, the Bible, is the only valid one for this whole discussion.
      My whole being weeps and is profoundly humbled by the mysterious comprehension of the majesty and power of our creator God!
      That he allows us as fallen, sin filled, lower beings to be a part of His magnificent creation attests to the undeserved love that He has for us.
      Remember, His plan requires a decision on our part. To acknowledge our sinfulness, turn from it, and glorify Him with our lives while we are present on this earth. Then, as believers our reward is to spend eternity with Him in paradise.
      Praise God for His marvelous plan of creation and redemption that saved me as a sinner, and gave me peace and joy everlasting. It will work for you too if you are a skeptic today. Remember my words and turn from error to truth.

  7. stever says:

    What a toy, what a great toy. Laterally formed Columns with sound generated liquid forms frozen in time. Fourth image from end. This standing water is so small that the gravity of the form is stronger than earth’s. Getting the image frozen like that is one great moment in transformation. This hydraulic force or power in transformation can do more than create images, think in terms of lifting pyramid stones, removing stone walls, sound generated hydraulic force emitters. Controllable by volume and frequency, harmonics and dissonance of the naturally found vibrations of things.

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