Somewhere Over the Rainbow

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Rainbows are a very interesting phenomenon, as although the size and shape may vary, they are always one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful gifts. And rainbows are not merely a byproduct of nature and science, they hold significance in different cultures and religions.

In the book of Genesis, the widely known story of Noah and the ark is concluded with a rainbow from God. The rainbow symbolizes the promise that God made to Noah that he will never again flood the entire planet. Orthodox Jews say a blessing when they see a rainbow, to thank God for this promise and pray that he will stand by it. For the Irish, rainbows hold significance in the form of leprechauns and the famous pot of gold. The old Irish belief is that the leprechaun hides his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – convenient, considering that it is impossible to reach the end. Nowadays, the rainbow, and rainbow flag, is most closely associated with the LGBT movement, as this has become the official flag of the movement.

So how exactly does this magical moment in nature occur?

First off, and I’m sorry to disappoint, rainbows are simply an optical illusion caused by the reflection of light in water droplets. No matter how close you think you are to finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – you aren’t – because rainbows always appear at a certain angle between you, the sun and the water droplets in the air. The combination of water droplets, from rain, mist or dew, with sunlight causes the light to disperse and reflect among the droplets, thus explaining the various colors that appear.

While the classic rainbow most commonly known to all is the arc, or half circle, there are many different types of rainbows.

The double rainbow is a rare phenomenon that occurs while observing a rainbow from a very precise angle. When this happens, two rainbows appear, due to double reflection of the light in the droplets. The beautiful sight that we see is a bright rainbow arc with a faded rainbow arc roughly 10 degrees above it. Because of the double reflection, the outer rainbow’s colors are reversed, so the red is on the inside and the violet on the outside.

The full-circle rainbow is even rarer to spot. Even though, in theory, all rainbows are circular, we can normally see up to 50% of the rainbow, therefore we see them in the shape of an arc. However, full-circle rainbows are visible from certain angles, when viewed from above ground level. Furthermore, these colorful circle illusions can be created by spraying mist into the air while you and the sun are in specific angles.

Other rainbow phenomena include monochrome, or red, rainbows that occasionally occur during a sunset shower. Reflected rainbows may appear, usually in a still lake, when a rainbow is formed above it. On very rare occasions, rainbows may actually form from a reflection of the sunlight in a lake. In this rare instance, a number of faint rainbows will seemingly appear to come out of the lake and shoot into the sky.

So remember, you will never reach that pot of gold, God will never flood the earth again and catching a rainbow is not about luck – it’s all about the angles! So after a rainy day, go outside and find your personal optical illusion…

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