Where there is a will there is a way

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How to cut out a Real Six-sided Snowflake (aka Stellar Dendrite)

Awhile ago I found some photos of real snowflakes on the web, and also remembered that kids activity people did with me where you fold and cut out snowflakes. But the one my mother knew of resulted in 8 sides, not the real six! I tried to figure it out mathematically, but we couldn't figure out a simple way.

I recently ran across this meteorology book with a really simple way to cut out a six-sided snowflake! You just use a compass (I used a mug) to make a circle, and then you fold it in half, then into a third (see image below) towards the middle. Then you fold it out and just cut out the inbetween spaces between the fold lines. (I think you fold it in half again to cut out the decoration along the edges to ensure greater symmetry.)

Credit: Meteorology by Graham Peacock, Wayland Publishers, East Sussex, England (1994). Credit: Snowflake Cut-out by Savannah Dale.

Here is another diagram that shows how snowflakes are formed that I found on the web, "Snowflake Morphology" (Translation: How snowflakes change.)

I don't know enough meteorology to understand it fully, but I get a gist from this diagram! They turn out different ways due to different conditions.

The amazing photo at the top of this blog was photographed by Kenneth Libbrecht, a professor of physics at California Institute of Technology. He photographs snowflakes in the field and in his lab. To see more snowflake photos, go to


You can also learn more about the snowflake types! The beautiful crystals we picture when we think of snowflakes are called stellar dendrites.

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