Snowflakes mostly form in two different types - plate-like and column-like - but there are many others, including needle-like, prism-like and star-like etc.. Although the many types have been extensively documented, and have been found to be temperature dependent (e.g. large stellar types only grow in a narrow temperature range around -15C) the molecular physics driving the different shape formations at different temperatures is poorly understood.
Understanding the ice/vapor attachment kinetics from molecular first principles is far beyond the state-of-the-art in many-body molecular physics, including modern molecular-dynamics simulations, so we must rely on experimental measurements of snow-crystal growth rates to guide the discussion.
Source : A Quantitative Physical Model of the Snowflake Morphology Diagram
For extensive technical details, see the work of snowflake investigator Professor Kenneth G. Libbrecht, of the Department of Physics, Caltech, who has published an open-access monograph book on the subject : Snow Crystals Princeton University Press, (544 pages).
Even now, well into the 21st century, our fundamental understanding of why snow crystals grow into the rich variety of structures we see falling from the clouds is remarkably primitive.
Also see :and
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