Friday, October 06, 2006

Let It Snow!

This weekend, post offices across the USA (& online) have begun offering a new set of 39-cent stamps featuring microscopic photos of snowflakes:

Ice crystals commonly begin as a piece of dust tumbling through the clouds. Gathering water molecules, they blossom into crystals with endlessly different patterns because of the constantly changing atmospheric conditions. This myriad of patterns has been classified within 7 basic forms by the International Commission on Snow and Ice (click here for an overview); the 4 photos selected by the USPS represent 2 of them:

  • "stellar dendrites" with branching treelike arms

  • "sectored plates" with platelike arms

Because fallen snowflakes start to melt & lose their shape within minutes of landing, they're particularly difficult to observe under a microscope, or to photograph.

Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Professor of Physics & Physics Executive Officer at The California Institute of Technology (CalTech), has built a tremendous website devoted to this art, & his fabulous photos are the ones chosen by the post office. He quickly transfers the snowflakes from cardboard to a glass slide using a paintbrush, then snaps the photos inside a temperature-regulated enclosure using a digital camera attached to a high-resolution microscope. That's a fancy way of saying the obvious--these are true freeze frames!

I am very grateful to Prof. Libbrecht, the king of snowflake photography, for granting me permission to feature several other specimens from his database here on my royal blog! You can click on the photos below to pop open hi-res versions of the photos on his website, or you can visit it directly for more info & photos galore:

"And your eyes shall see, & ye shall say, 'The LORD will be magnified...'"--Malachi 1:5

"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things..."--Psalm 119:18

"Now therefore, stand & see this great thing, which the LORD will do before your eyes!"--1Samuel 12:16

"An image was before mine eyes. There was silence."--Job 4:16-17

"LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see."--2Kings 6:20

"And the LORD showed signs & wonders before our eyes..."--Deuteronomy 6:22

"Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came & saw it with my own eyes; and behold, the half was not told me!"--1Kings 10:7

"And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God."--1Chronicles 17:17

"Lift up your eyes on high, & behold who hath created these things..."--Isaiah 40:26

"This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes!"--Psalm 118:23

"In that day shall a man look to his Maker, & his eyes shall have respect for the Holy One of Israel."--Isaiah 17:7

"Thine eyes shall see The King in his beauty."--Isaiah 33:17

"'The heathen shall know that I am the LORD,' saith the Lord GOD, 'when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.'"--Ezekiel 36:23

"Thus will I magnify Myself, & sanctify Myself; & I will be known in the eyes of many nations, & they shall know that I am the LORD."--Ezekiel 38:23

"Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see."--Luke 10:23

"Your eyes have seen all the great acts of the LORD, which He did."--Deuteronomy 11:7

"Mine eyes have seen The King--the LORD of hosts."--Isaiah 6:5

Song of the week: "Snow On High Ground" by Nightnoise (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 30-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena

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