Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nature's Most Varied Gemstone

Now that winter has arrived, it's the time for those of us in the north to think of snow. Indeed, some have already had their fill of it. Leaving New York the other day I enjoyed watching the snowfall from the cabin of my train car. The poster child for Radicals for Happiness has been enjoying making snow angels. Elsewhere, philosophers are debating whether snow is white. And the truth is, it is not. Snowflakes are crystals of ice, which itself is clear.

Ice crystals form the most varied of natural gemstones. They are gems, no less so than diamonds or amethyst, even if only delicate and ephemeral ones. And to truly enjoy them, one needs a good lens. Every child learns that each snowflake is unique. But we also think of them as flat and six-sided. But they can be flat, elongate, solid or round, triangular, six-sided, twelve-sided or shaped like a tetrahedron, or like the spiky jacks from the old-fashioned children's game.

Snowflakes are varied in a way that you just don't find with quartz or zircon. Yet they are not so permanent or easy to hold in your hand. But like over fifteen million other web surferes, you can take a look at a wonderful website that not only displays some beautiful images, but which also explains the myriad different types of snow and the conditions under which such kinds as prisms, plates, dendrites and rosettes form. Take a look at Cal Tech's snowflake website page, from which the images here have come.

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