The Colorful Science Of Rainbows

Just after a rain shower, when the sun starts to emerge beyond the clouds again, that's when the magic of rainbows happens. Created by light bending through water, rainbows rely on both reflection and refraction to emit their famous array of colors. But what are we really seeing when a rainbow appears? As it turns out, none of us actually see the same rainbow, even if we think we do. This is because the relaying of light through the eyes can vary even between left and right in a single individual, factor in distance from the rainbow, height of the viewer and more, and our take on the colorful arc is as unique as a snowflake.

So is there any truth to "gold at the end" of a rainbow? As it turns out, researchers say the "gold" refers to two things: following the rainbow's arc to a golden sun-lit horizon, or the tendency for brighter, more bold colors like gold, to appear during tenser rains. Check out this playlist to learn how double rainbows occur and how you can make one yourself.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. What Isaac Newton labeled "blue" on the rainbow, we would call blue-green, teal, or cyan. 00:26

  2. Purple, magenta, and hot pink don't occur in a rainbow produced by a prism. 00:57

  3. Interference from rain drops can create supernumerary rainbows, which may overlap with a primary rainbow to create colors such as purple. 01:43

Written by Curiosity Staff December 12, 2014

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