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·1 min

For such a ubiquitous substance, ice remains mysterious. Scientists are still uncovering the secrets of how it forms, for example. Case in point: Two physicists have just figured out that when the thermometer approaches absolute zero, ice can’t assume its normal crystalline form. Instead, high-powered microscopy reveals that ice tends to accumulate into extremely small, extremely thin isolated islands, as in this image. Even with a little more warmth, ice collects in very thin layers only 1/50,000th as thick as a human hair. It’s not until the temperature rises to a balmy couple of hundred degrees below zero that the ice we are all familiar with materializes–but you still wouldn’t want to stand on it.