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Secrets of Snowflakes

The end may be cold, rather than hot--if that's the case, we'll see plenty of snowflakes. Snowflakes come in what seems like endless variety of shapes, although the verdict is out on whether or not no two are ever alike.

Scientists are trying to model them on a computer, but since even a small change in temperature or humidity can change the shape and size of a flake, it's not easy. But now a team of mathematicians has discovered some of the basic rules of snowflake creation. In Scientific American, Ron Cowen quotes snowflake researcher Ken Libbrecht as saying, "They have solved a problem that other people have tried and failed to do." For instance, . they found that the speed at which the sharp tips of snowflakes grow is directly proportional to the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

But despite the new advances in modeling snowflake growth, the fundamental mystery about snowflakes--how they form in the first place--is still not solved. Cowen quotes Libbrecht as saying that to understand how they grow, "we have to marry the mathematics with the physics, and that's not been done, partly because we don't know the right physics."

The exquisite and intricate patterns of tiny snowflakes are another example of the old adage "a little goes a long way" applies, and that works for supporting unknowncountry.com too. Did you know that you can keep this website alive for three whole months for less than the cost of a latte a WEEK? So drink your coffee at home once a week and support this site. Here's more ways to be thrifty: subscribers get 10% off tickets to our wonderful Dreamland Festival in May AND they also get a coupon that let's them purchase a copy of Whitley's novel Hybrids for less than $2!



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