How to See a Rainbow
How to See a Rainbow
TRY SOME QUICK QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS TO GET STARTED
About the diagram
An overview of rainbows
- Atmospheric rainbows:
- Atmospheric rainbows often appear as a shower of rain is approaching, or has just passed over. The falling raindrops form a curtain on which sunlight falls.
- To see an atmospheric rainbow, the rain must be in front of the observer and the Sun must be in the opposite direction, at their back.
- A rainbow can form a complete circle when seen from a plane, but from the ground, an observer usually sees the upper half of the circle with the sky as a backdrop.
- Rainbows are curved because light is reflected, refracted and dispersed symmetrically around their centre-point.
- The centre-point of a rainbow is sometimes called the anti-solar point. ‘Anti’, because it is opposite the Sun with respect to the observer.
- An imaginary straight line can always be drawn that passes through the Sun, the eyes of an observer and the anti-solar point – the geometric centre of a rainbow.
- A section of a rainbow can easily disappear if anything gets in the way and forms a shadow. Hills, trees, buildings and even the shadow of an observer can cause a portion of a rainbow to vanish.
- Not all rainbows are ‘atmospheric’. They can be produced by waterfalls, lawn sprinklers and anything else that creates a fine spray of water droplets in the right conditions.
About the diagram
The weather, season and time of day are all important if you hope to see an atmospheric rainbow.
- The best rainbows appear in the morning and evening when the Sun is strong but low in the sky.
- Northern and southern latitudes away from the equator are good for rainbows because the Sun is lower at its zenith.
- Mountains and coastal areas can create ideal conditions because as air sweeps over them, it cools, condenses and falls as rain.
- Rainbows are rare in areas with little or no rainfall such as dry, desert conditions with few clouds.
- Too much cloud is not good because it blocks direct sunlight.
- Winter is not necessarily the best season because the light is weaker and there can be excessive cloud.
- Rainbows are less common around midday because the higher the Sun is in the sky the lower the rainbow.
- If the Sun is too high, then by the time the raindrops are in the right position to form part of a rainbow they are lost in the landscape.
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