Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape

Fascinating facts about the most interesting geometrical shape that we find almost everywhere around us.

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
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In easy words, a hexagon is a simple shape with six sides. But this seemingly simple shape is nothing less than a wonder. You might even be surprised to know that hexagonal shape is present throughout your life and nature in more places than one.

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Let’s take the beehive as an example where each cell is a hexagon. Take things a bit more microscopic and the most important piece of the organic material, Carbon, has a molecular structure that of a hexagon with carbon atoms at each corner.

“The force that makes the winter grow its feathered hexagons of snow, and drives the bee to match at home. Their calculated honeycomb is abacus and rose combined. An icy sweetness fills my mind, a sense that under thing and wing lies, taut yet living, coiled, the spring.” - Jacob Bronowski

Let us see why hexagon has so many stories, mysteries, and accolades attached to it.

Saturn’s own hexagon

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Kevin M. Gill

Let us start with something out of this world, literally! If one were to see the North Pole of Saturn from space, they could see a cloud formation over the planet.

However, this isn’t any ordinary cloud, and you can see why when you pay attention to the shape of the cloud. Yes, it is a hexagon.

Why does a cloud resemble the shape of a hexagon? Even scientists today can’t answer that question, although there are some theories about it, none have been verified.

Want to know another piece of interesting information? Each side of Saturn’s Hexagon measures more than earth’s diameter!

Water Spinning At High Velocity

This is an extension of the Saturn’s hexagon. When you rotate water in a container at very high speed, the inner hole takes the shape of a hexagon. This might be the key to unlocking why the Saturn pole clouds take the shape of a hexagon.

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In one of the experiments, the Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby created several shapes by spinning the water at different speeds. They poured water into the bucket and set the bucket to spin.

The shapes started to appear at about seven revolutions per second. In lower speeds, the first shape that appeared was a triangle. Then as the speed increased, the shapes also changed.

With increased speeds, the triangle changed into a square and then to a pentagon. But at the highest possible speeds, the resultant shape was of a hexagon.  

Even though, the researchers were unable to give a clear explanation on why the hexagon is formed when water spins at high speeds!

The Tiny Engineers – Bees!

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Don Hankins/Flickr

This is one of the most obvious and easiest to spot in nature. Whenever you see the insides of a beehive, the number of packed hexagons are truly a marvel.

For centuries, scientists were confused on why bees chose the shape hexagon as opposed to shapes like square or circle. The answer comes in the form of packing efficiency.

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It was found that if a series of circles were packed on top of each other, there were empty spaces in between them. The only way in which these empty spaces can be avoided is by changing the shape to a hexagon.

The Dragonfly Eyes

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Mcamcamca/Flickr

If you look closely at a dragonfly, its eyes are a collection of tiny eyes often known as compound eyes, each of which functions as an individual visual receptor. Each eye forms a shape of the hexagon.

To make up the complete set, over 30,000 hexagonal eyes are packed together. The result is a vision that scientists call ultra-multicolor. It is the world’s most advanced type of vision and is better than anything we have seen so far in the animal kingdom.

To put it into comparison, the human vision encompasses tri-color vision. This is because we have three types of light-sensitive protein in our eyes. These proteins are called opsins.

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In the case of a dragonfly, it has 30 different kinds of opsins in its eyes. Therefore, the color differentiation abilities of a dragonfly are far more superior to ours in every possible way.

Again, the possibility for a dragonfly to have over 30,000 compound eyes is because of the high packing efficiency of the hexagonal shape.

The Giant’s Causeway

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Chmee2/Wikimedia Commons

You might be wondering by this tourist spot in Ireland which has such a bizarre name. The answer lies in the legend that surrounds this place.

According to a popular myth, a giant called Fionn Mac Cumhaill built these columns. He built it as a causeway to fight a Scottish giant called Benandonner.

This causeway connected both the locations and be the fighting area for the two. There are two versions to this story. In the first one, the Fionn defeated the Scottish giant, and in the other, he flies from the Scottish giant, destroying the path he had made.

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But science has a different story to tell. The rock formation is a result of the rapid cooling of lava, specifically the Columnar Basalt. When molten lava cools, it contracts. This contraction leads to crack formation, and the hexagonal structure is the result of crack formation under maximum energy release.

This was explained after the study led by the physicist Stephen Morris and his college Lucas Goehring from the University of Toronto found success.

“The columns are formed as a sharp front of cooling moves into the lass flow, assisted by the boiling of groundwater,” Goehring explained at the time. “As the front advances, it leaves behind a crack network which evolves into an almost hexagonal arrangement. This network carves out the columns.”

Bubble Raft

A bubble raft is nothing but an array of bubbles packed close together. It is regularly seen on the water surface with tiny soapy form covering it. But have you ever gave it a second glance?

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If you do, you will notice that each bubble would be having the shape of a hexagon, provided there will be some irregularities. The reason for this phenomenon again goes back to the efficient packing structure.

When accommodating these many bubbles, the surface tension of each bubble will try to co-exist with the adherent bubble by spending the least amount of energy. This leads to filling up the gaps, and the result is an array of hexagonal structures.

It is truly amazing how hexagons in nature exist before our eyes, and even then, we often miss them!

The Majestic Snowflakes

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Pixabay

Another example of finding hexagons in nature is the humble snowflake. They are mesmerizing and quite mysterious on how they get the hexagonal shape.

To define a snowflake in the simplest form, they are tiny droplets of water that are frozen in midair. Snowflakes come in different shapes and sizes, but the most predominant shape is the hexagon.

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The reason for the shape is the orientation of water molecules themselves. Water is composed of two hydrogens and one oxygen molecule.

Water molecules change orientation with temperature. This is the reason why they can exist in three forms as water, ice, and steam. This is the same case for almost all of the materials found on earth.

When water undergoes a phase change to ice, two water molecules come together to form a hexagon. Since there are an enormous amount of atoms, the continuous chains of molecules, make up a large hexagon.

The example of snowflake carries the message of the hexagon in nature twofold. The overall shape of the snowflake is a hexagon, and the internal structure of the water molecules resembles the same.

The symmetry of the structure is also owed to the hexagonal structure of the molecules within itself. The whole design structure is carried over the entire snowflake structure.

Hexagon On A Turtle Shell!

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Tokugawapants/Wikimedia Commons

Nature has numerous beautiful species that reflect magnificent designs, and one of the species are tortoises. Their shells are what protect them, and on them, we can also find hexagons.

These slow-moving animals are protected with a hard shell that is made of one of the toughest compounds found in nature. But have you ever observed the pattern on the shell?

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Hexagonal Wall Patterns Create Quick Sound Insulation

If you look closely, you can see that the entire shell is formed from individual subunits. A closer look further reveals that these cells have a shape resembling a hexagon.

The subunits are given hexagonal shape because they are one of the most efficient geometrical shapes that can cover curved surfaces with minimal material wastage. After the inner hexagonal layers are formed, the shell is completed with filler shapes that constitute differently sized polygons.

Everything Begins with Carbon

You may fail to notice hexagon in yourself, but you need to remember that there are several billions of them in our body than you can ever imagine. It all comes down to the element that is present throughout our body - Carbon.

This element is even present in our DNA and makes up the human body from head to toe.

“Chemistry dissolves the goddess in the alembic, Venus, the white queen, the universal matrix, Down to the molecular hexagons and carbon-chains.” - Kathleen Jessie Raine

If you were to study the atomic structure of organic material like the human skin or flesh, you would find a series of carbon hexagon chains that are nicely packed together.  

The Hexagonal Shape of Nuts and Bolts

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Tomascastelazo/Wikimedia Commons

When you think of hexagons all around us, the most relatable objects that use a hexagonal shape are nuts and bolt heads. Hexagon is the predominantly used shape for nuts and bolts because of its unique features.

With hexagons, the tool edges find it much easier to grip the bolt. This means that more torque can be transferred to the bolt. This is why this design still reigns as the undisputed champ even though the design dates back to the 1700s.

The reason why hexagon is able to grip the tools is because of the degree of roundness it has. To be more precise, the hexagon is the only shape that stands between a polygon and a circle.

If you add more sides to a hexagon, it will closely resemble a circle. If you take away sides from a hexagon, it will become unusable.

Ever noticed a Football?!

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Aaron Rotenberg/Wikimedia Commons

Football isn’t just an ordinary ball. Technically, you will not find a circular shape on football.

The modern-day football is a mix of hexagons and pentagons. It is made from patches of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons.

But this begs the question of why other shapes aren’t used? The reason is pretty simple as hexagon is the only shape that resembles a circle that also allows for close packing without leaving out any waste space.

The pentagons are used to fill in the spaces that will eventually bind things up to give a near perfect spherical structure.

 Your Everyday Pencils

Why is The Hexagon Everywhere? All About This Seemingly Common Shape
Source: Tomomarusan/Wikimedia Commons

Even the most common things we use has a hexagonal relationship. The pencils that we use are hexagonally shaped.

There are many theories on why hexagon shape is given to the majority of pencils found today.  Many believe that it is done to prevent the pencils from rolling off the edges.

Others theorize that the shape gives maximum holding comfort. There are even theories that pencils are made into hexagonal cylinders to enable better packing when these are packaged in boxes.

With a hexagonal shape, the manufactures could pack in more pencil per volume than any other shape, and they become easy to store!

The Amazing Power of Hexagon!

It’s truly fascinating how hexagons are part of our everyday lives, but we fail to realize its power most of the time. The 6-sided polygon has more to it than we have ever thought, and some of the aspects of this shape are still mysterious.

Paying more attention to the details present all around us, however, could help us uncover more information about this interesting shape.

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