Rainbows- Understanding the How and the Why?

in StemSocial3 months ago

I remember being a kid and spending hours chasing rainbows.
As I got older, I kept chasing rainbows, but for different reasons. Rather than chasing after the elusive, colorful arc in the sky, I started chasing after knowledge seeking and looking to understand how phenomenons like rainbows form in the first place as far back as my days in high schools
You may not have realized, but this beautiful phenomenon(rainbow) is actually an optical illusion created by some really fascinating science.

Prepare to be mesmerized !!!

Image by Susanne Stöckli from Pixabay

What Is a Rainbow?

Ah, the rainbow. A beautiful, colorful array of light that many assume is purely magical. After all – how could something so stunningly awe-inspiring actually be a scientific phenomenon?

To break it down with a little science: A rainbow is produced when sunlight reflects through water droplets in the atmosphere. In addition to producing this stunning sight, these rainbows can also provide meteorologists with helpful insight into air temperature and other weather-related phenomenons!

There is virtually anything on our planet earth that doesn't have a science behind it

The Science Behind Rainbows

Rainbows are created when white sunlight enters a droplet of water, which acts as a tiny prism, refracting and splitting up the color in its diverse color ranges. To put it simply, light bends when it hits droplets of rainwater!

But that's not the end of the story: After the sunlight has broken apart into its component colors, it then travels in different directions (called "reflection"), before being reunited as one again in our eyes so that we can enjoy its glorious display. Talk about a comeback story!

So next time you're caught in a downpour and getting drenched, at least you'll know why you can glimpse those glimpses of colorful brilliance in between showers. After all, science is pretty cool – just like rainbows!

Light Spectrum and How It Relates to a Rainbow

Speaking of the light spectrum—have you ever seen something so colorful? Let me be your science teacher for a minute—This should do

Now we have colors and we have what is called distinct colors in the spectrum, these colors are the ROYGBIV red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. When sunlight is split through water droplets in the sky (like rain), these seven bands become more visible—hence the distinct arc of color!

When we see a rainbow in all its glory, those seven color bands are actually being bent.
The water droplets act like tiny lenses that are reflecting and refracting light back at our eyes. Depending on the size of the droplet as well as its shape and position in the sky, that dictates how much each color band is bent at different angles.

As for why there's a certain order of colors? That has to do with how much a certain wavelength bends when hitting air compared to other wavelengths. Red bends less than blue or violet, so that's why red is on top with blue (or violet) at the bottom before they mix again into an incredible blend of hues!

Atmospheric Conditions Needed for Rainbows

Image by Yves from Pixabay

Think of rainbows as a special promise from Mother Nature that if you keep your eyes wide open and wait long enough, eventually something beautiful will arrive!

So what do you need for a rainbow?

Firsty, sunlight, which si our source of light, needs to be beehind you and the clouds need to be in front of you.

Secondly, sunlight needs to hit individual water droplets that are suspended in the atmosphere.

Just like a special recipe for success, if any ingredient is missing or not quite right then it won't work—you won't get a rainbow. But when all these pieces come together perfectly...well then you get the most incredible display of light right at your fingertips!

Different Types of Rainbows

We have

Primary and Secondary Rainbows
First, let's talk** primary rainbows**. These are formed when sunlight passes through water droplets and is refracted (which essentially means it changes direction). When the light hits the droplets it is bent and separated so you end up seeing a spectrum of colors.

Secondary rainbows are made when sunlight reflects off the back of water droplets, leading to a second refraction that produces a fainter arc due to more light being scattered in the process. This means it appears further away from where you observe primary rainbows. Now, isn't that fascinating?

Double Rainbows
Double rainbows are pretty special because they show both primary and secondary rainbow arcs—the brighter primary rainbow on top and the paler secondary rainbow below. The interesting part about double rainbows is the order in which we see them—the secondary arc is actually upside down compared to the primary (it appears at an angle of 180°).

But all these types of rainbows have one thing in common: they all create stunning beauty every single time.

Where to Find Rainbows in Nature and Art

In nature, you can spot them after a rainstorm in the sky or as a reflection in a lake. But you don't even have to step outside; after all, art has its own set of rainbows. The most obvious example is through paintings, such as when an artist applies prismatic pigment to capture the essence of a rainbow's colors. Beyond canvas, don't forget the colorful jewelry that sparkles in the sunlight or stained glass windows that bring vibrant colors indoors.

Rainbows are magical, so it can be easy to overlook the science behind them. But understanding their formation helps us appreciate their beauty even more. When sunlight passes through water droplets, each color refracts and scatters at a different angle—this is what ultimately creates the spectrum of colors we love so much. And if you want to go into more depth, rainbows form because of spherical lenses inside each water droplet from total internal reflection—it's actually really cool!

So the next time you witness a rainbow, don't just take it for granted and assume it’s just a pretty picture someone painted in the sky. Remember that rainbows are more than a symbol of hope—they are a scientific marvel. That's why
"So when life gives you rainbows, head to the closest science lab."

Sayonara, thanks for reading 🖐️

References and resources



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