Kepler Essay On The Six Cornered Snowflake

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By Johannes Kepler (Author), Jacques Bromberg (Translator), and Guillermo Bleichmar (Foreword). His curiosity was far-ranging, and in 1609 he wrote a brief essay about, of all things, a snowflake.

He was the first to prove, for example, that planets orbit the sun in ellipses, not perfect circles.

(His works of astronomy are harder to follow: too much math.) What works in our favor is that he’s writing, not to a fellow scientist, but to his patron at court, the delightfully named Lord Wacker von Wackenfels.

Metaphor, Mother of Science Late in the treatise, Kepler ponders snowflakes by pondering the frosty window above a hot bath.

Aristotle’s finished works, lost to posterity, were actually dialogues, praised by Cicero for their literary style.

We have far fewer examples of major scientists presenting their own ideas in accessible form. Many others write for each other, with “science reporters” and “popularizers” serving as intermediaries for the general reader.

Kepler’s question, “Why do all snowflakes have six corners?

,” wouldn’t be answered until the development of X-ray crystallography in the twentieth century.

Imagine: the tired astronomer, eyes bloodshot, fingers ink-stained (Kepler did all his own calculations), walks out on a Prague bridge and notices the snowflakes landing on him, his celestial mind quickened by this symmetry on his sleeve.

The Only Poetic Questions are Questions of Form The editors of the book seem to have sensed this poetic quality.


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