Rainbows - Part I - Introduction and The Science Of The Rainbow


Nature is so inspiring.

I particularly love the rainbow because the image and colours are so inspiring. This phantom is a spiritual experience which instills hope and joy which uplifts my soul.

Everything rainbow has been a hobby of mine since I was a child. I even wrote a kid’s television series on all things rainbow. Unfortunately, the proposal was not accepted. Still a good idea though and the information gathering provided me with much intellectual joy. (If anyone is interested, we can talk.)

The rainbow has inspired humans since they first walked on this earth. It is seen in every culture and in every era through, art, literature, films, mythology, music, flags, fashion, logos, current events .... and even gaming. The list goes on and on

This beautiful phantom has a great place in history because it has inspired great minds to deconstruct it’s illusiveness. As a result, humanity has made great strides in science and technology. Most of these discoveries we take for granted.

I will explore 3 main areas: 1. Science, 2. History, and 3. Culture.

This is a brief overview of these areas because the information is endless. (Otherwise this would be a very long blog posting.)

What Is A Rainbow?

The rainbow is an optical illusion. There are ‘many’ types of rainbows. The “Primary Bow” is the one that most people are familiar with. (That’s if you’ve ever seen a real rainbow.)

There are 12 variations: 1. Multiple or double rainbow; 2. Twinned rainbow; 3. Tertiary and quaternary rainbows; 4. Higher-order rainbows; 5. Supernumerary rainbow; 6. Reflected or reflection rainbow; 7. Full circle rainbow; 8. Monochrome rainbow; 9. Rainbows under moonlight; 10. Fogbow; 11. Circumhorizontal arc (really a halo); and 12. Rainbows on Titan. (For a detailed explanation and pictures, Wikipedia is the best reference for this. I know, I’ve researched a lot of Google postings.)

How have rainbows impacted us through science, history and culture?

1. Science:

A. How are Rainbows made?

  • A rainbow is all light and water. The Sun shines ON the Raindrops.
  • It is always in front of you while your back is to the sun.
  • Most rainbows occur in late afternoon, after a rainfall, when there’s still moisture in air, as the clouds part, and just before the sun comes out!
  • And lasts only ½ hour.
  • When the light enters a raindrop, each ray of light is bent x3 times in the droplet – once going in, once inside the drop, & once exiting the drop.
  • The drops act as a prism and breaks-up white sunlight into 7 colours. – red – orange – yellow – green – blue – indigo – violet. The best way to remember the order is the acronym ROY G BIV. Most of us are familiar since elementary school with the mnemonic ROY G. BIVRed Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet–the colors of the spectrum.

B. What makes the arc and colours of the rainbow?

The arc is a concentration of light through a thin sheet of water droplets. Which acts as one giant prism. And each drop only reflects one colour.

Red, which has the longest wavelength, is located at the top of the rainbow and bends over the other colours of shorter wavelengths. Where violet is at the bottom

And together all these trace out an arc. The rainbow is actually round, but, the earth cuts off our view at the horizon. However, if we were in an airplane we would we would actually see a full circle.

Next-up: Part II - History - What has science discovered by studying the rainbow?

Rainbow Formation

Rainbow Formation

Rainbow Spectrum

Rainbow Spectrum

Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violiet = ROY G. BIV 's Family

Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violiet = ROY G. BIV 's Family

Thank-you to all the photographers who have made this humble posting more lively with great illustrations and photos. For photo credits please click on the photo.  This will take you directly to the website from where the photo originated.

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