Physicists try to create the perfect snowflake

Snowflakes collect on a car window during a winter nor’easter snow storm in Waltham, Massachusetts, on January 2, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES – Tags: ENVIRONMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) – RTX17080

Nothing in nature is perfect, but frosty, shiny snowflakes come pretty close.

Now a man tries to push the boundaries of that shiny, symmetrical ice crystals, the largest, most perfectly symmetrical snowflake ever, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Libbrecht said that he was inspired by the snowflakes that he encountered in his hometown of Fargo, North Dakota.

Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, has spent years trying to create such symmetrical beauty in his lab. By carefully checking the terms and conditions, use of commercial recirculating cooling systems and temperature controllers, he has managed to create a 0.5-inch -over snowflakes that will retain their pristine symmetry.

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But that is not big enough for him: Libbrecht believes that he can make crystals as large as 1 inch horizontally or more, the Mercury News reported. There are no physical laws that prevent the formation of arbitrarily large snowflakes, but only a slight change in circumstances can make the flakes appear to be wonky, Libbrecht said.

“It’s easy to grow an ugly snowflake,” Libbrecht told The Mercury News. “More things go wrong as they get bigger.”

That said, in 2006, NASA scientists measured snow in Ontario, Canada and found that individual snow crystals of about 0.6 inch) are not uncommon. And not all of them were ugly.

Outside the lab, snow forms high in the atmosphere when crystals form on particles of dirt or dust in the atmosphere. If the nascent crystal falls, encounters an ever-changing conditions which constantly nudges the snowflake to form in one way or another, that is the reason why no two flakes are alike, the Mercury News reported.

Originally published on Live Science.

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