What precisely are rainbows?

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A rainbow, a symbol of hope and beauty, emerges after rain showers, sometimes even during rainfall when the sun shines. This captivating phenomenon occurs as sunlight refracts and reflects inside raindrops, splitting into its constituent colors.

Each hue is bent at a different angle, creating the iconic arc of vibrant colors spanning the sky. Witnessing a rainbow is witnessing nature’s enchanting play of light and water, a fleeting yet mesmerizing spectacle.


A rainbow exhibits several distinct colors, encompassing red, yellow, green, blue, orange, indigo, and violet as its primary hues. Beyond these prominent shades, a rainbow reveals a spectrum of colors typically imperceptible unless in close proximity. Among these subtle nuances are hues that may be unfamiliar to the observer.

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Furthermore, individual perception plays a role, as each person’s vision refracts light uniquely, potentially leading to variations in the colors perceived. Thus, the array of colors seen in a rainbow can differ among viewers, adding an element of subjectivity to the experience and highlighting the complex interplay between light, water, and perception in nature’s breathtaking display.


To understand rainbows, one need only look to Sir Isaac Newton. Observing sunlight passing through a prism and revealing its vibrant spectrum, he christened the resulting colors, mirroring those of a rainbow. In his classification, Newton aimed to include seven colors, adding indigo as the seventh, influenced by his religious beliefs.

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Additionally, it’s worth noting the mythological connection: the Greek goddess Iris serves as the embodiment of the rainbow. Newton’s scientific inquiry not only unveiled the mechanics of light and color but also intertwined with cultural and mythological symbolism, enriching our understanding of this natural phenomenon.

Diverse perspectives

Upon sighting a rainbow, one typically observes a spectrum of colors arranged in a curved or arched shape. However, another individual positioned elsewhere may witness only a partial rainbow or perceive different hues altogether. When viewing a rainbow, the sun typically resides behind the observer, casting its rays onto raindrops opposite the viewer’s position.

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Rainbows can manifest in various conditions, such as dew-covered mornings or misty atmospheres. Additionally, they may appear amidst ocean spray when sunlight adequately reflects off water droplets. Regardless of the specific circumstances, witnessing a rainbow serves as a reminder of the intricate interplay between light, water, and atmospheric conditions, offering a captivating spectacle for those fortunate enough to behold it.


Rainbows grace the sky with their mesmerizing appearance, often manifesting as a stunning arc or curve. Their graceful curvature spans the heavens, captivating observers with their ethereal beauty. Against the backdrop of clouds or clear skies, rainbows stand out as vivid ribbons of color, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.

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This distinctive shape adds to their allure, evoking a sense of wonder and enchantment in those fortunate enough to witness them. Whether seen against a stormy sky or a tranquil backdrop, the sight of a rainbow never fails to inspire awe, reminding us of the exquisite wonders that nature has to offer.

Secondary Rainbows

Secondary rainbows, also known as double rainbows, occur when light undergoes two internal reflections within raindrops before exiting. This process results in a secondary arc outside the primary rainbow, with its colors reversed compared to the primary rainbow. The secondary rainbow appears fainter and is situated at a wider angle from the antisolar point, where the sun is located.

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The additional reflection causes the secondary rainbow’s colors to be more spread out, often making it appear less vibrant than the primary rainbow. While secondary rainbows are less commonly observed than primary ones, they offer a captivating insight into the complex optical phenomena occurring within raindrops, adding to the beauty and intrigue of rainbows in nature.

Old details

According to old folklore, walking under a rainbow was believed to change one’s gender, while European tales spoke of angels placing a pot of gold at its end for a nude man to find. Despite such myths, rainbows are often symbols of peace. Though elusive, spotting the end of a rainbow is challenging due to its fleeting nature and the movement of the observer, as their eyes reflect the light they see.

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Moonbows, visible during bright moonlight and rain, are rare but spectacular phenomena, best captured through photography. From aerial perspectives, rainbows often form complete circles. Their simplicity and beauty inspire artwork, while variations like double or triple rainbows occur based on sunlight and atmospheric moisture.

Viewer’s Position

Point 8 emphasizes the importance of the viewer’s position relative to the sun in determining the visibility and appearance of rainbows. When observing a rainbow, the sun should be positioned behind the viewer, while rain or water droplets refract and reflect its light toward the observer. This positioning creates the optimal conditions for rainbow formation.

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Additionally, the angle of sunlight and the observer’s location contribute to the shape and intensity of the rainbow. Depending on these factors, observers may witness partial rainbows or even full circular rainbows when viewing from elevated positions, such as mountains or aircraft. Understanding the relationship between the sun, raindrops, and the observer’s perspective enhances appreciation for the intricate beauty of rainbows in nature.

Weather Conditions

Rainbows aren’t limited to rainy conditions; they can manifest in various atmospheric circumstances. In addition to rain, they can appear during foggy weather, when tiny water droplets scatter light, creating a diffused spectrum. Furthermore, mist or spray from waterfalls, fountains, or ocean waves can produce rainbows when sunlight interacts with the airborne droplets.

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Even dew-covered mornings can yield delicate rainbows as sunlight refracts through suspended water droplets near the ground. These diverse conditions showcase the versatility of rainbows, illustrating how they can emerge from different forms of water in the atmosphere. Each setting offers a unique perspective on this enchanting optical phenomenon, enriching our appreciation for the interplay of light and water in nature’s canvas.

Interaction of Light and Water

When sunlight encounters raindrops, it undergoes a series of complex phenomena, including refraction, reflection, and dispersion. This interaction leads to the creation of rainbows, where light is separated into its constituent colors, forming the iconic spectrum in the sky.

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Additionally, the formation of rainbows highlights the fundamental principles of optics and meteorology, offering insight into how we perceive and understand the world around us. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, rainbows serve as a reminder of the beauty and complexity of natural processes, inspiring curiosity and appreciation for the wonders of our environment.