Three Amazing Things about Rainbows

Fun Facts about Rainbows

First, most rainbows form (or suggest) a partial circle in the sky, which in turn suggests a full circle - and what’s at the center of that full circle?  The head-scratching answer is: the shadow of that head you're scratching (or at least the spot where your head’s shadow would fall, if you could see it).  Let me explain.  Every time you see a rainbow, the sun is behind you, and the sunlight bouncing off the water droplets in front of you is refracted back as the ROYGBIV colors (as if the droplets are little falling prisms).  Think of your field of vision as a cone with its tip at your eyes, radiating outward from there; you perceive the rainbow along the curve of that cone.  And so the center of the rainbow’s circle is the point directly opposite the sun from the observer (i.e., the point at which the shadow of the observer’s head would fall).  So the sun is always behind you when you see a rainbow.  Now you know where in the sky to look for one!

Second, for the same reason, every rainbow we see is the same sized arc within our visual field - whether we perceive it in a backyard sprinkler or over some distant mountains.  In other words, if you were to reach out your arms to indicate the span of the rainbow you see in your backyard sprinkler, your arms will be the same distance apart as they’d be if you did the same thing to show the comparable span of the rainbow that appears to be out over the horizon.  This is because the perception of the rainbow is always the result of refracted light appearing to you along the curve of the "cone" of your visual field - and the shape of that cone never changes.  Astounding - and true!

And third, have you ever seen a double rainbow (a rainbow outside another rainbow)?  Well, next time you do, look closer: the outer rainbow is a reflection, and as such, its order of colors is reversed!  Not ROYGBIV, but VIBGYOR!

God’s creation is full of amazing surprises!