Changing Colour of a Falling Raindrop
This is one of a set of almost 40 diagrams exploring Rainbows.
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Changing Colour of a Falling Raindrop
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About the diagram
About the diagram
- This diagram has four sections:
- The top left and top right deal with the colour of a single raindrop as it falls through a secondary rainbow. The left-hand side shows that the raindrop changes colour from violet to red as it falls. The right-hand side shows that to be visible in a secondary rainbow, light must enter the lower half of a raindrop and be reflected twice before exiting towards an observer.
- The bottom left and bottom right deal with the colour of a single raindrop as it falls through a primary rainbow. The left-hand side shows that the raindrop changes colour from red to violet as it falls. The right-hand side shows that to be visible in a primary rainbow, light must enter the top half of a raindrop and be reflected once before exiting towards an observer.
- So this is the sequence:
- A single raindrop changes colour over time and as it falls. Its colour at any moment depends on its angular distance from the axis of the rainbow.
- At its largest angular distance from the axis, a raindrop appears violet to an observer as it enters into the outer edge of a secondary rainbow.
- Moments later, as that same raindrop falls, and its angular distance decreases, it changes colour, first from violet to blue and finally to red. The diagram shows the moments at which it appears violet, yellow and red.
- During this phase, light reflected towards the observer is entering the lower half of the droplet and reflects off the inside twice before exiting.
- As the angular distance reduces further the droplet disappears for a moment as it enters Alexander’s band.
- As it falls further and its angular distance reaches 42.40 it enters the outer edge of the primary rainbow and appears red and then finally violet as it exits the inside edge.
- The droplet is now almost invisible but continues to contribute a little to a scattering of light that fills the area within the arcs of the two bows.
Overview of primary rainbows
The most common atmospheric rainbow is a primary bow.
- Primary rainbows appear when sunlight is refracted as it enters raindrops, reflects once off the opposite interior surface, is refracted again as it escapes back into the air, and then travels towards an observer.
- The colours in a primary rainbow are always arranged with red on the outside of the bow and violet on the inside.
- The outside (red) edge of a primary rainbow forms an angle of approx. 42.40 from its centre, as seen from the point of view of the observer. The inside (violet) edge forms at an angle of approx. 40.70.
- To get a sense of where the centre of a rainbow might be, imagine extending the curve of a rainbow to form a circle.
- If your shadow is visible as you look at a rainbow its centre is aligned with your head.
- A primary rainbow is only visible when the altitude of the sun is less than 42.4°.
- Primary bows appear much brighter than secondary bows and so are easier to see.
- The curtain of rain on which sunlight falls is not always large enough or in the right place to produce both primary and secondary bows.
Overview of secondary rainbows
A secondary rainbow appears when sunlight is refracted as it enters raindrops, reflects twice off the inside surface, is refracted again as it escapes back into the air, and then travels towards an observer.
- A secondary rainbow always appears alongside a primary rainbow and forms a larger arc with the colours reversed.
- A secondary rainbow has violet on the outside and red on the inside of the bow.
- When both primary and secondary bows are visible they are often referred to as a double rainbow.
- A secondary rainbow forms at an angle of between approx. 50.40 to 53.40 to its centre as seen from the point of view of the observer.
- A secondary bow is never as bright as a primary bow because:
Some key terms
Rainbow colours are the bands of colour seen in rainbows and in other situations where visible light separates into its component wavelengths and the spectral colours corresponding with each wavelength become visible to the human eye.
- The rainbow colours (ROYGBV) in order of wavelength are red (longest wavelength), orange, yellow, green, blue and violet (shortest wavelength).
- The human eye, and so human perception, is tuned to the visible spectrum and so to spectral colours between red and violet. It is the sensitivity of the eye to this small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that results in the perception of colour.
- Defining rainbow colours is a question more closely related to the relationship between perception and language than to anything to do with physics or scientific accuracy.
- Even the commonplace colours associated with the rainbow defy easy definition. They are concepts we generally agree on, but are not strictly defined by anything in the nature of light itself.
- Whilst the visible spectrum and spectral colour are both determined by wavelength and frequency it is our eyes and brains that interpret these and create our perceptions after a lot of processing.
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