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The beauty of snowflakes magnified

USDA ARS

This is an image of a classic snow crystal viewed under the power of an electron microscope. May it serve as a reminder that snow is beautiful. Really.

With the gripes and groans piling up in the aftermath of the East Coast's first major blizzard of the season, let's remember that snow has a beautiful side, especially when studied under the power of magnification.

That's what the folks at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Electron Microscopy Unit do in the service of science and improving our daily lives. They've made these images of snowflakes available for our viewing pleasure. Above is a classic image, showing what we often think all snow crystals look like ... but magnified 162 times. Below are needle crystals, which are often associated with heavy snowfall in the Northeastern United States.


Needle crystals are often associated with heavy snowfall in the Northeastern U.S.

For more about these images, check out this amazing slideshow from Wired.com.

The up-close imagery may leave you asking that perennial question: Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike? As we explained in our list of 10 wonders from a winter wonderland, the answer depends on how alike "alike" is, and the definition of a snowflake.

The detailed answer is drawn from Caltech physicist Ken Libbrecht, whose snow crystal photography was honored with Sweden's Linnart Nilsson Award in October. You can check out more of Libbrecht's work here. And for still more flaky science, follow the links below to learn more about snowflakes and winter.


John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).