Snow Laughing Matter: An Icy Response to Poorly Drawn Snowflakes

Snowflakes’ shape and size are influenced by the conditions in which they’re formed – temperature, air currents, humidity, etc. But except in rare occurrences, they will always be six-sided. Somehow, though, artists and illustrators keep screwing this up on everything from Christmas cards to ugly sweaters to store displays, giving the flakes anywhere from five to eight sides. Thomas Koop, a professor of chemistry at the University of Bielefled in Germany who specializes in ice crystal formation, was able to ignore the “corruption” of real, natural snowflakes by “incorrect 'designer' versions” for a while, but there’s only so much a man can take. When he spotted an eight-sided flake in the science journal Nature last year, Koop fired off a letter to the editor, which the journal printed last Christmas Eve.

In his letter, Koop explained that the hexagonal shape of snowflakes has been known for 400+ years, ever since German astronomer/mathematician Johannes Kepler published his treatise “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake.” So why are snowflakes shaped like that? Koop told LiveScience last year that “the hexagonal crystal lattice is the lowest energy form of water at cold ambient conditions. As the molecular building blocks arrange themselves into a hexagonal structure on the molecular scale, so do snow crystals exhibit this hexagonal symmetry also on the macroscopic scale.”

Nature subscribers and those with institutional access can read Koop’s letter here, and everyone can have a good laugh at incorrectly drawn, unnatural snowflakes at the blog Snowflakefail.

Why Are Glaciers Blue?

The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

New Jersey Is Now Home to the Western Hemisphere's Largest Planetarium

Space-loving tourists often travel to Manhattan to visit Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. But starting December 9, they’ll be able to get their fill of stars and planets in nearby Jersey City. As Astronomy reports, New Jersey’s second-most-populous city is now home to the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, and the fourth largest in the world.

The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, an interactive science museum in Liberty State Park, opened in 1993. It’s home to 12 museum exhibition halls, aquariums, a live animal collection, and an IMAX dome theater. On July 31, 2017, the theater was closed for extensive renovations, thanks to a $5 million gift from an altruistic former high school teacher-turned-philanthropist, Jennifer Chalsty, who’s served as a science center trustee since 2004.

Renamed the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, the IMAX theater received a digital upgrade and a brand-new screen, and was provided with the requisite technology to serve as a planetarium. The theater’s dome is 60 feet high, with a diameter of 89 feet, and its 10-projector system broadcasts onto a 12,345-square-foot domed screen.

There are only three planetariums in the world that are larger than the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium, and they’re all located in China and Japan. “You can fit any other planetarium in the Western Hemisphere inside the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium,” said Paul Hoffman, the science center's president and CEO, in a press release. “Add in the state-of-the-art technology and you have a spectacular unique theater like none other in the world. Visitors will be able to fly through the universe, experience the grandness and vastness of space, roam planetary surfaces, navigate asteroid fields, and watch the latest full-dome movies."

[h/t Astronomy]


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