Questions about Rainbows

People have been asking questions about rainbows since the beginning of time. One question frequently asked is, how far away is that rainbow? That is a tough one. How far away are the raindrops that produce it? It is hard to judge how far away a rain cloud is; especially if it's moving. The rainbow's distance extends from the nearest to the farthest raindrops that contribute any part of the colored light. The closest of these raindrops may be miles away. In the case of water spray from a lawn sprinkler in which a rainbow appears, you can reach right in and "touch it"....or so it seems. Many questions are unique to one's cultural history. Where is that pot of gold? That is a good question too.

The idea that a pot of gold can be found at the rainbow's end originated somewhere in old Europe. In Silesia, an obscure area of eastern Europe, it was said that the angels put the gold there and that only a nude man could obtain the prize. Hmm.....

Can you go under a rainbow's arch and come out the other side? Not according to the laws of physics. A rainbow is all light and water. It is always in front of you while your back is to the sun. However, there is an old European belief that anyone passing beneath the rainbow would be transformed, man into woman, woman into man! Hmm....
Well, that would be less painful than going to a surgeon.

Do two people ever see the same rainbow? No. As the eyes of two people cannot occupy the same place in space at the same time, each observer sees a different rainbow. Why? Well, because the raindrops are constantly in motion so its appearance is always changing. Each time you see a rainbow, it is unique in its own spectacular way! Many people consider rainbows to be an omen of some kind. It is an ancient desire rooted in our cultural mythologies.

The legends of many cultures see the rainbow as a kind of bridge between heaven and earth. One of the most beautiful sights in nature, the rainbow has become in western culture a symbol of renewed hope; something lucky to look upon. To Iranian Moslems, even the brilliance of the colors in a rainbow have significance. A prominent green means abundance, red means war, and yellow brings death. The Arawak Indians of South America recognize the rainbow as a fortunate sign if it seen over the ocean, while tribes in northeastern Siberia see it as the tongue of the sun. The North American Catawba Indians of the Southeast and the Tlingit of the Northwest both regard it as the bridge between the living and the dead.

What is a Rainbow or What Happens When Light, Water and Air meet?

When light and water meet in the sky on a summer's day, for a few moments, a rainbow will appear. Such a beautiful sight! This phenomena of the atmosphere appears during or immediately following local showers, when the sun is shining and the air contains raindrops. A rainbow can best be seen with polarized sunglasses. We cannot follow the arc of a rainbow down below the horizon, because we cannot see those droplets in the air below the horizon. But the higher we are above the ground, the more of the rainbow circle we would see. That is why, from an airplane in flight, a rainbow will appear as a complete circle with the shadow of the aitplane in the center.

The bow is divided into bands displaying the different colors of the spectrum and is formed by the refraction and reflection of the sun's rays in drops of rain. Reflection is simply the return of light waves from the raindrop's surface. Light which appears to be white, is really made up of a mixture of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet light.

When a shaft of sunlight enters a drop of water, a part of it does not pass directly through but is reflected from the inner surface and emerges from the side from which it entered. Moreover, it is refracted both on entering and leaving the water drop. This process, repeated in the same manner for an immense number of drops, produces the primary rainbow, which appears in front of the observer, who has his back to the sun. It has the red band on the outer edge which are long light waves and the blue-to-violet on the inner edge which are short light waves.

Another larger bow is often seem outside the primary rainbow and parallel to it. This secondary rainbow is produced in a similar way, but the sun's light is reflected twice before emerging from the raindrop. For this reason, the color sequence is reversed; red is on the inside edge. And because there is a loss of light with each reflection, it is not as bright as the primary rainbow. The region between the two bows is comparatively dark, for it lacks entirely both the once and the twice reflected rays. There is theoretical evidence for a tertiary rainbow , but it would be so faint as to be rarely seen in nature.

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