A rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, secondary rainbow, rainbow colors, rainbow kiss, rainbow song.
A rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicoloured circular arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the Sun.
Rainbows can be full circles. However, the observer normally sees only an arc formed by illuminated droplets above the ground, and centered on a line from the Sun to the observer’s eye.
In a primary rainbow, the arc shows red on the outer part and violet on the inner side. This rainbow is caused by light being refracted when entering a droplet of water, then reflected inside on the back of the droplet and refracted again when leaving it.
In a double rainbow, a second arc is seen outside the primary arc, and has the order of its colors reversed, with red on the inner side of the arc. This is caused by the light being reflected twice on the inside of the droplet before leaving it.
A rainbow is not located at a specific distance from the observer, but comes from an optical illusion caused by any water droplets viewed from a certain angle relative to a light source. Thus, a rainbow is not an object and cannot be physically approached. Indeed, it is impossible for an observer to see a rainbow from water droplets at any angle other than the customary one of 42 degrees from the direction opposite the light source.
Even if an observer sees another observer who seems “under” or “at the end of” a rainbow, the second observer will see a different rainbow—farther off—at the same angle as seen by the first observer.
Rainbows span a continuous spectrum of colours. Any distinct bands perceived are an artefact of human colour vision, and no banding of any type is seen in a black-and-white photo of a rainbow, only a smooth gradation of intensity to a maximum, then fading towards the other side.
For colours seen by the human eye, the most commonly cited and remembered sequence is Isaac Newton’s sevenfold red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, remembered by the mnemonic Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, or as the name of a fictional person (Roy G. Biv). The initialism is sometimes referred to in reverse order, as VIBGYOR. More modernly, the rainbow is often divided into red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue and violet
Rainbows can be observed whenever there are water drops in the air and sunlight shining from behind the observer at a low altitude angle. Because of this, rainbows are usually seen in the western sky during the morning and in the eastern sky during the early evening. The most spectacular rainbow displays happen when half the sky is still dark with raining clouds and the observer is at a spot with clear sky in the direction of the Sun.
The result is a luminous rainbow that contrasts with the darkened background. During such good visibility conditions, the larger but fainter secondary rainbow is often visible. It appears about 10° outside of the primary rainbow, with inverse order of colours.
Eruption of Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, with double rainbow seen in the mist
The rainbow effect is also commonly seen near waterfalls or fountains. In addition, the effect can be artificially created by dispersing water droplets into the air during a sunny day. Rarely, a moonbow, lunar rainbow or nighttime rainbow, can be seen on strongly moonlit nights. As human visual perception for colour is poor in low light, moonbows are often perceived to be white.
It is difficult to photograph the complete semicircle of a rainbow in one frame, as this would require an angle of view of 84°. For a 35 mm camera, a wide-angle lens with a focal length of 19 mm or less would be required. Now that software for stitching several images into a panorama is available, images of the entire arc and even secondary arcs can be created fairly easily from a series of overlapping frames.
From above the Earth such as in an aeroplane, it is sometimes possible to see a rainbow as a full circle. This phenomenon can be confused with the glory phenomenon, but a glory is usually much smaller, covering only 5–20°.
The sky inside a primary rainbow is brighter than the sky outside of the bow. This is because each raindrop is a sphere and it scatters light over an entire circular disc in the sky. The radius of the disc depends on the wavelength of light, with red light being scattered over a larger angle than blue light. Over most of the disc, scattered light at all wavelengths overlaps, resulting in white light which brightens the sky. At the edge, the wavelength dependence of the scattering gives rise to the rainbow.
Light of primary rainbow arc is 96% polarised tangential to the arch. Light of second arc is 90% polarised.
Number of colors in a spectrum or a rainbow
A spectrum obtained using a glass prism and a point source is a continuum of wavelengths without bands. The number of colours that the human eye is able to distinguish in a spectrum is in the order of 100. Accordingly, the Munsell colour system (a 20th-century system for numerically describing colours, based on equal steps for human visual perception) distinguishes 100 hues. The apparent discreteness of main colours is an artefact of human perception and the exact number of main colours is a somewhat arbitrary choice.
Newton, who admitted his eyes were not very critical in distinguishing colours, originally (1672) divided the spectrum into five main colours: red, yellow, green, blue and violet. Later he included orange and indigo, giving seven main colours by analogy to the number of notes in a musical scale.
Newton chose to divide the visible spectrum into seven colours out of a belief derived from the beliefs of the ancient Greek sophists, who thought there was a connection between the colours, the musical notes, the known objects in the Solar System, and the days of the week. Scholars have noted that what Newton regarded at the time as “blue” would today be regarded as cyan, and what Newton called “indigo” would today be considered blue.
The colour pattern of a rainbow is different from a spectrum, and the colours are less saturated. There is spectral smearing in a rainbow owing to the fact that for any particular wavelength, there is a distribution of exit angles, rather than a single unvarying angle. In addition, a rainbow is a blurred version of the bow obtained from a point source, because the disk diameter of the sun (0.5°) cannot be neglected compared to the width of a rainbow (2°).
Further red of the first supplementary rainbow overlaps the violet of the primary rainbow, so rather than the final colour being a variant of spectral violet, it is actually a purple. The number of colour bands of a rainbow may therefore be different from the number of bands in a spectrum, especially if the droplets are particularly large or small. Therefore, the number of colours of a rainbow is variable. If, however, the word rainbow is used inaccurately to mean spectrum, it is the number of main colours in the spectrum.
The question of whether everyone sees seven colours in a rainbow is related to the idea of linguistic relativity. Suggestions have been made that there is universality in the way that a rainbow is perceived. However, more recent research suggests that the number of distinct colours observed and what these are called depend on the language that one uses, with people whose language has fewer colour words seeing fewer discrete colour bands.
A secondary rainbow, at a greater angle than the primary rainbow, is often visible. The term double rainbow is used when both the primary and secondary rainbows are visible. In theory, all rainbows are double rainbows, but since the secondary bow is always fainter than the primary, it may be too weak to spot in practice.
Secondary rainbows are caused by a double reflection of sunlight inside the water droplets. Technically the secondary bow is centred on the sun itself, but since its angular size is more than 90° (about 127° for violet to 130° for red), it is seen on the same side of the sky as the primary rainbow, about 10° outside it at an apparent angle of 50–53°. As a result of the “inside” of the secondary bow being “up” to the observer, the colours appear reversed compared to those of the primary bow.
The secondary rainbow is fainter than the primary because more light escapes from two reflections compared to one and because the rainbow itself is spread over a greater area of the sky. Each rainbow reflects white light inside its coloured bands, but that is “down” for the primary and “up” for the secondary. The dark area of unlit sky lying between the primary and secondary bows is called Alexander’s band, after Alexander of Aphrodisias who first described it.