What’s a more rigorous description of why snowflakes are so symmetric?
The general explanations of why they’re symmetrical are:
- Theyre not. The branches actually vary.
- Snowflakes are somewhat symmetrical because the branches form in very similar environments (they are right next to each other after all).
This is unsatisfying. First of all, the ones I’ve looked at appear remarkably symmetrical. Occasionally they are lopsided, like the one in the lower right above, but usually not. Secondly, wouldn’t the formation of each branch be determined by chance and/or minute, almost micron-scale factors (factors right at the end of each particular branch)? Why do these formation dynamics match the other branches so well?
Furthermore, according to Pinterest creator Amy Dayton, on her page dedicated to radial symmetry in nature, the entire formation begins due a piece of dust or pollen. Usually life is behind the symmetry. It seems that smaller particulates at each branch would greatly affect their formation as well. But even if we assume otherwise, trillions of molecules are involved in every turn of the branch, so the crystalline structures should be free to go wherever. Seems like a lot of “memory” for the water of adjacent branches to continue in similar ways.
For example, the one in the upper right. The existing explanations imply that just the local conditions (temperature, pressure, purity, etc) plus hexagonal crystals, plus that start to a branch.. will result in the unique palmetto tridents shown! (And these tridents appear after the branches go through differences in how they look!).
A correct answer will give us an intuition about why, after quadrillions of layers of molecules and ice crystals, opposite branches are still growing in the same way (beyond saying they are in similar environments).
Finally, a related question provides no help and just says ice makes hexagonal crystals at the molecular level.