A stellar dendrite. Stellar means star-like, and the word dendrite comes from the Greek work for tree. The name perfectly marries the six-pointed, branching shape of this most iconic type of snow crystal.
This and the following images were captured by Caltech physicist Kenneth Libbrecht, using a specially designed snowflake photomicroscope.
These types of snowflakes are actually very rare, Libbrecht said. "Perhaps one in a million."
Yes, that is a snowflake, or, more accurately a snow crystal the more technical name for snowflakes. There are roughly 35 different types. This type of snow crystal is known as a hollow column. Typically these crystals have openings on each end, but in this case the ice has trapped air bubbles inside.
These snowflakes are characterized by six broad arms, and often have elaborate markings etched onto their surface. They are fairly common, Libbrecht says.
These are the largest of the snow crystals, so named for the delicate, fern-like branches that protrude from the crystal's six main arms. Libbrecht writes on his website that stellar dendrites often make for the best skiing.
Under a microscope, human-made snow just doesn't measure up. It may be great for ski resorts, but in general, humans have had a hard time recreating in the laboratory what happens naturally in the skies.
Snow crystals may offer an astounding array of shapes, they are rarely perfectly symmetrical, Libbrecht says.