Rainbows Seen From the Air

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This is one of a set of almost 40 diagrams exploring Rainbows.


Each diagram appears on a separate page and is supported by a full explanation.

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Description

Rainbows Seen From the Air

TRY SOME QUICK QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS TO GET STARTED
No! Rainbows are not always visible at midday because their whole circumference can be below the horizon when the sun is high in the sky.
Red is always on the outside edge of a primary rainbow.
Yes! Other common media that produce rainbow-like effects include: Paraffin Benzene Plate glass Other glass

About the Diagram

An overview of rainbows

An atmospheric rainbow is an arc or circle of spectral colours and appears in the sky when an observer is in the presence of strong sunshine and rain.

  • Atmospheric rainbows:
    • Are caused by sunlight reflecting, refracting and dispersing inside raindrops before being seen by an observer.
    • Appear in the section of the sky directly opposite the Sun from the point of view of an observer.
    • Become visible when millions of raindrops reproduce the same optical effects.
  • 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: Atmospheric rainbow  summary
Visual processing

Visual processing is a complex and dynamic process that involves interactions between various retinal cells, neural pathways, and brain regions, ultimately leading to conscious visual perception.

Visual processing begins the moment light enters the human eye. It then progresses through multiple stages as signals travel towards the visual cortex, where the neural activity is integrated, resulting in conscious visual experience.

As visual processing begins the retina starts to process information about colors, as well as basic information about the shape and movement associated with those colors. By the end of this stage, multiple forms of information about a visual scene are ready to be conveyed to higher brain regions.

Let’s examine two major forms of processing, trichromatic and opponent-processing, which occur within the eyeball as visual information is gathered from light entering our eyes.

Trichromacy, also known as the trichromatic theory of colour vision, explains how three types of cone receptors in the retina work together with bipolar cells to perform their role in the initial stage of colour processing. Rod cells also play a significant role in this form of processing visual information, particularly in low-light conditions.

Opponent-processing, also known as the opponent-process theory of colour vision, explains the second form of processing. Opponent-processing involves ganglion cells that process the data received from trichromatic processing and combine it with other intercellular activities.

It is interesting to note that as both trichromatic and opponent-process theories developed over the last century, researchers and authors have often pitted one theory against the other. However, both processes are crucial for understanding how colour vision occurs.

Trichromatic theory explains the encoding of visual information when light hits the retina, while opponent-processing explains a subsequent stage of information convergence, assembly, and coding before the data leaves the retina via the optic nerve.

Note that:

  • Both trichromatic and opponent-processing occur independently within each retina, without comparing with the other.
  • Each eye gathers information from a specific viewpoint, approximately 50 mm to the left or right of the nose.
  • The two impressions are later compared and combined to provide us with a single three-dimensional, stereoscopic view of the world, rather than two flattened images.

We can consider the layers of retinal cells involved in trichromatic and opponent-processing as examining, interpreting, and transmitting visually relevant information. However, it would be incorrect to view this as a straightforward linear process due to the intricate neural networking, cross-referencing, and feedback loops within the retina.

Some Key Terms

A human observer is a person who engages in observation by watching things.

Sunlight is light emitted by the Sun and is also called daylight or visible light.

Rainbows are at their best early morning and late afternoon when a shower has just passed over and the Sun is illuminating the curtain of raindrops formed on the trailing edge of the falling rain.

A rainbow is an optical effect produced by illuminated droplets of water. Rainbows are caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in individual droplets and results in the appearance of an arc of spectral colours.

  • Rainbows only appear when weather conditions are ideal and an observer is in the right place at the right time.
  • Waterfalls, lawn sprinklers and other things that produce water droplets can produce a rainbow.
  • A rainbow is formed from millions of individual droplets each of which reflects and refracts a tiny coloured image of the sun towards the observer.
  • It is the dispersion of light as refraction takes place that produces the rainbow colours seen by an observer.
  • When the sun is behind an observer then the rainbow will appear in front of them.

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.

Visible light is the range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation perceived as colour by human observers.

The visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum is called the visible spectrum.

  • The visible spectrum is the range of wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that correspond with all the different colours we see in the world.
  • As light travels through the air it is invisible to our eyes.
  • Human beings don’t see wavelengths of light, but they do see the spectral colours that correspond with each wavelength and colours produced when different wavelengths are combined.
  • The visible spectrum includes all the spectral colours between red and violet and each is produced by a single wavelength.
  • The visible spectrum is often divided into named colours, though any division of this kind is somewhat arbitrary.
  • Traditional colours referred to in English include red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

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