First, we see an overall pattern. Then, when we take a closer look, we see that the very same pattern is repeated at a smaller scale, and then on an even smaller one.
These patterns are called fractals and they occur everywhere in nature, from fern leaves to the branches of a tree, snowflakes, ocean waves, animal colouration patterns and even Saturn’s rings.
Writing in The Conversation, University of Oregon physics professor Richard Taylor describes this phenomenon:
“My scientific curiosity was stirred when I learned that many of nature's objects are fractal, featuring patterns that repeat at increasingly fine magnifications. For example, think of a tree. First you see the big branches growing out of the trunk. Then you see smaller versions growing out of each big branch. As you keep zooming in, finer and finer branches appear, all the way down to the smallest twigs. Other examples of nature's fractals include clouds, rivers, coastlines and mountains.”