The Six-Cornered Snowflake

  • Johannes Kepler
Paul Dry Books (Philadelphia, PA)

"In 1611, Kepler wrote an essay wondering why snowflakes always had perfect, sixfold symmetry. It's a simple enough question, but one that no one had ever asked before and one that couldn't actually be answered for another three centuries. Still, in trying to work out an answer, Kepler raised some fascinating questions about physics, math, and biology, and now you can watch in wonder as a great scientific genius unleashes the full force of his intellect on a seemingly trivial question, complete with new illustrations and essays to put it all in perspective."— io9, from their list "10 Amazing Science Books That Reveal The Wonders Of The Universe"

When snow began to fall while he was walking across the Charles Bridge in Prague late in 1610, the eminent astronomer Johannes Kepler asked himself the following question: Why do snowflakes, when they first fall, and before they are entangled into larger clumps, always come down with six corners and with six radii tufted like feathers?

In his effort to answer this charming and never-before-asked question about snowflakes, Kepler delves into the nature of beehives, peapods, pomegranates, five-petaled flowers, the spiral shape of the snail's shell, and the formative power of nature itself. While he did not answer his original question—it remained a mystery for another three hundred years—he did find an occasion for deep and playful thought.