Saturday, December 15, 2018

So how can we possibly know that no two snowflakes are alike?

I wore my blue gloves when I went walking in the snowstorm the other day.

I kept lifting my hands, 
watching the snowflakes land.
So many snowflakes.
So many of them perfectly formed crystals. 

Watching the flakes melt on my gloves, I got to wondering this: how can we possibly be sure that no two snowflakes are alike?
Later I went skating across the web looking for information. I found a site called LiveScience and here’s what it said:
The old adage that "no two snowflakes are alike" might not hold true, at least for smaller crystals, new research suggests.

Physicist Jon Nelson at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, has studied snowflakes for 15 years.

"It is probably safe to say that the possible number of snow crystal shapes exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the known universe," Nelson said. 

Still, while "no two snowflakes are alike" might hold true for larger snowflakes, Nelson figures it might ring false for smaller crystals that sometimes fall before they have a chance to fully develop.

"How likely is it that two snowflakes are alike? Very likely if we define alike to mean that we would have trouble distinguishing them under a microscope and if we include the crystals that hardly develop beyond the prism stage—that is, the smallest snow crystals," Nelson said.

"Good luck finding them though," he added. "Even if there were only a million crystals and you could compare each possible pair once per second—that is, very fast—then to compare them all would take you about a hundred thousand years."

One more thing about snowflakes: they play an incredibly important role in climate change:
“Scientists investigate how snowflakes form because of the possible influence they may have on global climate. In addition, researchers now believe ice crystals in the atmosphere, which typically are snow crystals too small to fall to the ground, play a key role in ozone depletion, possibly by acting as a catalyst to break down ozone.” 
Who knew snowflakes were so  important? 

cientist: Maybe Two Snowflakes <i>are</i> Alike

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