December 24, 2009

Fake Snowflakes Under Attack!

Yet another holiday season is here and what would Christmas be without the critique of what is right and what is wrong when it comes to the holidays?

This time around its not whether we should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, but criticism over how snowflakes are depicted in popular children's books and holiday cards.

These "faux" snowflakes have four, five, and sometimes eight sides and seem to defy the laws of physics.

Manufacturers of Christmas cards, advertising agencies and book publishers are accused of corrupting nature with these incorrect designs of snowflakes.

Professor Thomas Koop of the University of Bielefled in Germany, who specializes in ice crystal formation, spoke out only when he spotted an octagonal snowflake on Nature's own marketing website, which had the caption "...for anyone who loves science."

Koop made it clear that he was frustrated by the whole situation.

In a letter sent to Nature, Koop pointed out that snowflakes can only exist in hexagonal shapes, which has been known for over 400 years when German astronomer Johannes Kepler published his findings on the subject.

Snowflakes are more accurately known as snow crystals and are very unique. No two snowflakes are ever the same - although as different as they are, all have six-sided symmetry. They can be single crystals or larger clusters. Snow crystals form when water vapor condenses into solid ice. Depending on certain factors such as temperature and humidity, the crystals grow into hexagonal rods, solid flat plates, or unique branched crystals. The shape stems from the hexagonal lattice of water molecules.


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