Freezing my balls

okay its really a frozen soap bubbleAs New Horizons draws closer to Pluto, it’s starting to send back some really detailed images of the distant dwarf planet, including this lovely shot of dawn over its frozen surface.

Okay, that’s an outright lie. You’re looking at something that I’ve wanted to try since I saw it online last winter, and we’ve gotten the conditions necessary for it now. This is a soap bubble, freezing over in the frigid air. It was -8°c (17°f) as I did this, abnormally cold for this latitude, but still much better than the northeast, so I’m not complaining. Okay, that’s another lie. And yes, I’m just shy of half a century old and playing with soap bubbles – don’t get wise.

I tried this during the day, but I think it was just a little too warm for it then, even though the sunlight would have worked much better. I played around with the lighting a lot this evening/morning and never got it the way that I wanted, but still pulled out a few interesting images for my efforts. Focus was also kind of difficult, since it was hard to tell which surface that I was focusing upon, the closest or the farthest, and the strobe was at a different angle than the porch light, so even seeing the growing frost crystals was tricky. You are likely familiar with how the rainbow swirls will dance around on a soap bubble, courtesy of the shifting fluid, and it was interesting to note that as the crystals started to form they might also be dancing around, which seems counterintuitive but there you are.

burst frozen soap bubble
About half of the time, the bubbles would burst even after freezing, leaving this curious shell, but sometimes they would just get a small hole in them. I produced a lot of bubbles for this, catching them on the wand after launching them into the air, and most of the rest would have started to freeze before they burst in midair, leaving a shower of delicate onion-skin flakes of ice to dance on the breeze.

frost on the bubble wand
At one point, having delayed a little too long while moving the strobe, the bubble wand itself froze over, so I did a backlit, dark field shot of the pattern for posterity. But, just once, I captured a very cool effect.

rainbow diffraction through frost
The same trait that makes the rainbow swirls in a normal soap bubble produced this display, as the diffracted light bounced off the inside surface of the bubble to shine through the encroaching frost on the opposite side. You’ll see this again shortly, but I figured it deserved a closeup. The beaded line, by the way, is the coiled off-camera cord between the camera and the strobe getting caught in the light and reflecting off the bubble. And that’s not the only odd reflection I achieved (wholly unintentionally, of course.)

photographer and flash unit reflected in soap bubble surface with frost forming
I also managed a curious double-selfie; the softbox strobe is obvious, but you can also see my belly and the pale left sleeve cuff, with a black glove just barely visible beyond it curled under the lens, with everything duplicated in reverse – one reflection from the top surface of the bubble, and another inverted by coming off the back surface, inside the bubble. The strobe angle happened to illuminate me, but wasn’t aimed high enough to show my head or the camera itself, coincidentally producing almost no overlap from the two images. And I’m sure you didn’t miss the frost beginning at lower right.

I’ll close with an animated sequence, nine frames patched together to show the progression of colors and frost, with the reappearance of the rainbow effect. Sorry, they were shot freehand so they wobble a bit, but I’m sure you’ll cope.
animated gif of frost bubble