There’s no denying, there’s something absolutely mesmerizing about snowflakes. We’ve all marveled at photos of snowflakes under the microscope and intricate snow crystals made in the lab and we’ve filled in you in on the chemistry behind those beautiful formations, but scientists at the University of Utah have developed a way to show us snowflakes like we haven’t seen them before: in 3D.
The team, lead by atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett has developed a camera system called the Multi-Angle Snowflake Camera (MASC) capable of capturing 3D images of snowflakes as they fall from the sky. The system consists of three high-speed cameras triggered by infrared sensors that photograph snowflakes in mid-air at extremely fast exposures (up to 1/2,500th of a second). Multiple triggers along the snowflake’s path measure fall speed and the high resolution images let the scientists measure the snowflakes themselves.
“You’ve probably seen gorgeous pictures of snowflakes that have been collected on glass slides and put under a microscope. These pictures, while beautiful, are pictures of snowflakes that are exceedingly rare,” said Garrett to TechNewsDaily. He explained that most snowflakes that fall from the sky are actually clumps of many flakes stuck together. Putting those onto a slide would destroy them, which is why we’ve never gotten to see them close up before.
So all snowflakes are unique, but the overwhelming majority are ugly clumps of congealed frozen ice crystals. Who’s surprised? My gut reaction is I’m responding more to the scientific advance of capturing falling flakes in 3D (1/2,500th of a second isn’t really super-duper fast, now is it?) rather than the uninspiring conclusion researchers draw.
Also — the ending: the Army has already put in orders. Joy.