January 6, 2016

The Magic World of the Snowflake

Happy New Year from Lake Louise, where, thanks to lots of snow, and very little wind, we feel like we're living inside a Christmas card. There's snow on the trees, and everything is looking very “Narnia” (before the ice queen is defeated).

photo by Sherry Ott
As a special treat, during the week leading up to Christmas, we had days in a row of gentle snowfall, in cold, very still conditions. It made for the kind of snowflakes that populate our imaginations – the perfect six-sided stellar plates that every kid in kindergarten tries to recreate with scissors and folded paper. Once the snow stopped falling, on Boxing Day, we had over a week of clear skies, and these sparkly snowflakes glinted in the sunshine during our snowshoeing tours. Everybody oohed and aahed.

Photos by Wilson Bentley, 1902
Our camera went on the fritz during the holidays, and we weren't able to record the beauty, so we went looking for photos of snowflakes, and found some terrific images online.

First, there are the historic photos of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, born just over a century ago in Vermont, and the first person to photograph closeups of snowflakes. Starting as a teenager, he jury-rigged a microscope and an early bellows camera.  After much experimentation, he managed to capture the intricate beauty of snow, taking over 5,000 snowflake photos in his lifetime.

courtesy of the USDA
Fast forward to today, and people are finding new ways to add to Bentley's ouevre. There's electron microscope images of snow, tricky macro shots, and even time lapse microphotography showing the growth of snow crystals in a lab.

This time lapse work comes courtesy of the guru of snow, physicist Kenneth Libbrecht. He takes photos much like Wilson Bentley, but in colour, and using polarized light. He's also the pioneer of home made snow in his lab. It is truly stupendous to watch, and is all available at his amazing website, snowcrystals.com.

Enjoy the show.