The snowflake perfection

A short history of the snowflake

Let us love the snow. Otherwise, we risk breaking our poetic balance and forgetting our human condition,” wrote Francis Bossus in La Forteresse (1971).

This winter and for the time being, the new “white gold” is rather rare. Mountain lovers are watching and worrying. In the meantime, what can we learn or recall in a few lines about this material that is so quick to melt – not to say disappear – these days?

What has been known about snow for a long time?

That it is first of all a form of atmospheric precipitation made up of ice particles that are branched and agglomerated into flakes whose structure is highly variable. Indeed, no two flakes are alike!

In the early 17th century, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler was the first to observe them with a scientific eye. Before they become entangled and fall to the ground, almost all flakes are flat: they do not ‘grow‘ in all directions. They almost all have six identical branches, rather like a coin around which you can put exactly six other coins of the same size! This incredible symmetry is created as the flakes grow due to the hexagonal geometry of the ice crystal.

Take the time to look at flakes with a magnifying glass, it’s fantastic! We still do not understand everything about the formation of flakes, but their great diversity is notably linked to the different temperature, pressure and humidity conditions at the time