Image of the Day: Snowflake Photomicrograph from 1890 Image of the Day: Snowflake Photomicrograph from 1890
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Image of the Day: Snowflake Photomicrograph from 1890

by Patrick James

January 23, 2011
In 1885, Wilson A. Bentley became the first person to photograph a single snowflake. From The Smithsonian comes this photograph of his from 1890. See more of his snowflake imagery here.

Writing for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik examines Bentley's body of work, wonders whether snowflake shapes like the one above are more exceptional than ordinary, and calls into question the commonly held belief that no two snow flakes are alike:

It turns out, however (a few more slips, a bit more Googling), that Bentley censored as much as he unveiled. Most snow crystals—as he knew, and kept quiet about—are nothing like our stellar flower: they’re irregular, bluntly geometric. They are as plain and as misshapen as, well, people. The Fifth Avenue snowflakes are the rare ones, long and lovely, the movie stars and supermodels, the Alessandra Ambrosios of snow crystals. The discarded snowflakes look more like Serras and Duchamps; they’re as asymmetrical as Adolph Gottliebs, and as jagged as Clyfford Stills.

Gopnik stumbles upon research suggesting that, in fact, some snowflakes start out looking exactly like one another; it's only in their descent to Earth that they take on different characteristics.

Thanks, Peter!

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Image of the Day: Snowflake Photomicrograph from 1890