No two snowflakes are alike and how a blizzard killed the man that discovered this

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A Dendrite Star Snowflake, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31, Box 12, Folder 17, Negative no. 332

(WOWK) – So exactly when did we humans learn that no two snowflakes are alike? Wilson A. Bentley is the man generally credited with figuring it out.

A “Dendrite Star” Snowflakes Photomicrographed by Wilson A. Bentley, by Bentley, W. A (Wilson Alwyn) 1865-1931, c. 1890, Smithsonian Archives – History Div, SIA2008-1395.

According to the Smithsonian, Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley (1865–1931) photographed thousands of individual snowflakes and perfected the innovative photomicrographic techniques. His photographs and publications provide valuable scientific records of snow crystals and their many types. Five hundred of his snowflake photos now reside in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, offered by Bentley in 1903 to protect against “all possibility of loss and destruction, through fire or accident.”

A Star Crystal Snowflake, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31, Box 12, Folder 17, Negative no. 976 

By adapting a microscope to a bellows camera, he became in 1885 the first person to photograph a single snow crystal. He went on to photograph some 5,000 snowflakes over more than 40 years and never found a perfect match between them.

A Plate Snowflake, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 31, Box 12, Folder 17, Negative no. 801 

The Smithsonian says that Bentley would stand in the winter cold for hours at a time; waiting patiently until he caught falling flakes. Once a snowflake landed, he carefully handled it with a feather to place it under the lens. The apparatus was set up outside so that the delicate specimens would not melt, and after a minute and a half exposure, he captured the image of a snowflake.

Wilson A. Bentley, 1925, courtesy of the Jericho Historical Society.

Ironically, ever dedicated to his work, he died at his farm on December 23, 1931 after having caught pneumonia from walking through a blizzard. His book Snow Crystals was published shortly before his death, and is still in print today.

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