Snowflake Scientist Reveals Secrets Behind Shapes

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Snow "Field Guide"

Libbrecht has written a new book, The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty, lushly illustrated with snowflake photography by Wisconsin-based photographer Patricia Rasmussen. In the book, Libbrecht addresses one question he hears time and again as one of the world's leading snow experts: Is it really true that no two snowflakes are alike?

Even for scientists, there is a certain inability to answer the question, Libbrecht writes. "It's a funny question, almost like a Zen koan," he writes. "If two identical snowflakes fell, my inquisitive friend, who would know? And how can you say it is so, since you have not checked them all to find out?'

Libbrecht's more scientific answer is an involved examination of just how closely one chooses to look for differences, and how complex a crystal must be for consideration as snowflake. His answer is essentially both yes and no.

While one may never solve the mystery of identical flakes, that shouldn't stop the curious from looking. Libbrecht says all a person needs to study flakes on his or her own is cold, snowy weather (0° to 10° Fahrenheit yields particularly interesting crystals) and a small magnifying glass.

Encouraging amateur snow hounds was a major impetus behind the book, Libbrecht says. "One of the reasons for the book is to create kind of a field guide so that you know what to look for," he said. "It's just good clean fun."

"It doesn't matter where you look. You can see them on a sleeve, or on a car windshield, or on just about anything that catches snowflakes," Libbrecht said. "What you see just depends on what's falling out of the sky."

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