Letters from the Atmosphere

We nearly made it through the winter without any snow…but suddenly with a drop in temperature it’s been descending in lovely soft flakes all day, insistently refusing to melt. This reminds me that (for some forgotten reason) I was reading recently about a man nicknamed “Snowflake Bentley” – a self-taught farmer from Vermont who invented one of the earliest methods of microphotography; using a bellows camera and microscope, he eventually managed to document thousands of snowflakes (or, snow crystals), catching them against black velvet before they were lost forever.

Snow crystals may not really be "letters from heaven"

Although there have been musings on snowflakes since at least the time of Johannes Kepler, who figured out a lot about their mathematics, it’s thanks to Bentley that we know no two snowflakes are alike. It’s also thanks to him that modern-day residents of his hometown in Jericho are able to make some extra money selling a variety of snowflake themed merchandise. I wonder if an enthusiastic amateur would be able these days to make such an immense contribution to Science (and to art – because surely that’s what these photographs can be considered)?

...but that makes them no less amazing.

A later, moreย  traditional snowflake researcher – if such a thing exists – was Ukichiro Nakaya, a physicist who developed a classification system for snowflakes using images highly influenced by Bentley’s work. In 1936, Nakaya created the first ever artificial snow in his Low Temperature Science Laboratory at Hokkaido University. A museum in his name now displays a range of historic and modern exhibits while involving visitors of all ages in snow-related activities and competitions. The best part – or the geekiest depending on your point of view – is that the museum building is shaped hexagonally to reflect the structure of snowflakes. ๐Ÿ™‚

Odd to say that my own camera isn’t as powerful as those ones from a century ago; but anyway I’ve tried to evoke some of the gorgeous white views outside with these photos. In some kind of Christmas-card re-enactment I even saw a robin sitting on the fencepost by my window. He flew away too fast for me to capture him.


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4 responses to “Letters from the Atmosphere”

  1. Garth says :

    Enjoyed this blogpost and those photos from a hundred years ago are brilliant. Interested article. X

  2. Garth says :

    I meant interesting article… does a blog count as an article? Is blogging sort of like inexpensive self publishing do you reckon?

    • musingfrommanchester says :

      Hello there! I corrected your typo but had to change it back so this comment makes sense. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yes, inexpensive self publishing! Exactly! It’s great. I try to ensure it is still of high quality but even if it’s not, it’s a great way to express yourself, make interesting connections between your inner life and the external world. Guess you know all about that from your art, I see you’re very prolific these days!

  3. Jemster says :

    “Listen the snow is falling, o’er town…” ๐Ÿ˜‰

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