Catching a glimpse of a rainbow right after the rain is perhaps one of the most beautiful wonders of nature. You see the array of colors formed into an arc across the sky, which is a stunning sight to behold.
If you’ve ever seen a rainbow before, we can all agree that seeing this naturally occurring masterpiece gives a sense of awe and joy.
Whenever you see a rainbow in the sky, it might’ve crossed your mind that there might be a pot of gold at the end (as the legend goes), or maybe ask yourself if there’s really an end to a rainbow.
But have you ever wondered about the science behind it?
Curious? Don’t worry. I got you.
Today, we’ll talk about the physics of rainbows. I’ll even share some fun facts about this beautiful phenomenon!
But first, let’s talk about how a rainbow forms.
A rainbow is a colorful arc formed when sunlight from behind you hits tiny water droplets in the air and bounces back to your eyes.
As the sunbeam hits a water droplet, it slows down, bends, and splits into a spectrum of colors. This bending of the light phenomenon is called refraction.
The refracted light then enters the raindrop and is reflected off the back of the droplet. Finally, when the refracted light exits the droplet, it travels and reflects back to our eyes, making a rainbow.
Now, you might wonder why there are different colors in a rainbow.
This is because visible light has variations of wavelengths, and we see these variations as colors. The colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
These colors separate because each travels with a different wavelength or speed in the water.
The speed of light never changes. However, in certain situations when light enters a different medium, like going from air to water, or air to glass, it causes the colors to separate out and become visible.
Red has a slower frequency than green light, but the actual speed when measuring it from the same two absolute points is the same.
Rainbows are often seen when the sun shines through after the rain. But it can also be viewed around waterfalls, fog, mist, or sea spray.
Now that you know how a rainbow works, let’s delve into some fun facts about a rainbow you might not know.
Did you know that
- A rainbow is actually an optical illusion and doesn’t exist.
- The word rainbow was derived from the Latin phrase “arcus pluvius,” which means “rainy arch.”
- We normally see a rainbow as a semi-circle or arc, but did you know it’s actually a full circle? This is because people usually stand on the ground, and the horizon cuts off the other half of the rainbow.
- You can see a full circle rainbow from an airplane or in a tower high above the ground.
- Earth is the only planet in our solar system where a rainbow can occur.
- Isaac Newton was the first person to explain how a rainbow forms. He also discovered there are seven colors in a rainbow during an experiment with prisms.
- Hawaii, a state in the US, has the most rainbows than anywhere else on our planet, earning the nickname the Rainbow State.
- It’s possible to see a double Rainbow. This is formed when the light is reflected twice inside the water droplets.
- The longest-observed rainbow happened in the mountains of Taipei, Taiwan, in 2017. It started at 6:57 am and until 3:55 pm, lasting 8 hours and 58 minutes.
- Greeks and Romans believed in ancient times that rainbows were paths created by Iris, the goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the Olympian gods. Greek mythology also says that rainbows linked humans to the Gods.
Last one! Did you also know that you can create your own rainbow at home?
Yes. You can try it on a sunny day in your backyard!
Just stand with the sun behind you and spray the hose in front of you to create a fine mist screen. You will see a rainbow appear in the spray or when you look at your shadow.