Close to zero

As we approach the end of the winter season, what are the chances of finding two identical snowflakes? According to physicist Jon Nelson (via Popular Mechanics), the chances are “essentially zero.” Or, to be more mathematically precise, the chances are one divided by 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000. (The enormous denominator in this fraction is the number of possible snowflake shapes there are: one followed by 768 zeros.) By the way, the image below, via Rian Dundon, is a reproduction of one of the first photographs of a snowflake:

Credit: Wilson Bentley

This entry was posted in Culture, Mathematics, Probability, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Close to zero

  1. Craig says:

    Ah, but there’s more. You expressed the problem as “finding” two identical snowflakes. If the odds that there *exists* two identical snowflakes is something like 1 in 10^768, wouldn’t the *finding* of this fact take something like 10^768 factorial?

  2. Craig says:

    Good analogy!

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