The random, symmetrical beauty of snowflakes has been recreated in a computer program, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.
It took four years for two mathematicians from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of California, Davis, to develop the computer model's theory and perform the computations.
"Even though we've artfully stripped down the model over several years so that it's as simple and efficient as possible, it still takes us a day to grow one of these things," Wisconsin researcher David Griffeath said in a statement.
In nature, snowflakes form from water molecules crystallizing around a speck of dust or other material. The result are intricate fern-like stars, needles, and prisms, often adorned by tiny ridges and circular markings.
The model may help meteorologists predict how snowflake types affect the amount of water that reaches the ground.
"Water is the most amazing molecule in the universe, pure and simple," Griffeath said. "It's just three little atoms, but its physics and chemistry are unbelievable."