I woke up this morning to no snow (as usual, this particular winter), but also to a Google homepage “doodle” that told me that today is the 125th anniversary of the appearance (falling?) of the world’s largest snowflake! During a ferocious winter storm in Montana in 1887, snowflakes were observed as large as “milkpans” and one in particular measured 15 inches in diameter. What a delightful anniversary! Obviously I can’t let it go by without marking it in my own way, so I’m showcasing one of my favorite images for the second time: a very early view of snowflakes viewed through a microscope from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665).
Like the images in my last post, this is not only aesthetically pleasing and representative of its historic time and place, but also a great teaching tool: what better way to demonstrate the pure empiricism of the Scientific Revolution? Snowflakes were great objects of study in the seventeenth century, beginning with Johannes Kepler’s 1611 essay On the Six-Cornered Snowflake. Kepler pondered the very essence of the snowflake, which “comes down from heaven and looks like an angel” yet evaporates into nothing.