How do rainbows form?

Science & Technology

(WUTR/WFXV/WPNY-TV) – One of the most beautiful displays of color and awe are created when Mother Nature stretches rainbows across the sky. Though what exactly causes rainbows to form? It requires the sun to be out and water droplets in the air (hence why they happen right after it rains).

When sunlight shines on the water droplets, it passes through the droplet and bends (because light travels slightly slower in water than in air). Once the light reaches the very end of the droplet, it bounces off the back of the droplet and goes back the way it came. As the ray of light bounces and bends when it moves in the water droplet, it separates the light into its component wavelengths (different colors). This creates the arc of colors we see in the sky, however that’s not the full rainbow!

Rainbows actually are in the shape of a full circle. It’s because of the ground and the angle you view the rainbow that makes it look like only a half circle. From high heights such as in a plane during the right conditions, you’d be able to see the full, circular rainbow.

What’s more amazing than a rainbow though? Two rainbows! These are formed when the light reflects a second time within the water droplets. This second reflection however is at a different angle. This is why the second rainbow appears on top of the first one and has its colors reversed from the first one. For more information, you can visit SCIJINKS and Metoffice.gov.

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