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Truth behind the rainbow

Updated on November 25, 2012

Rainbows - an optical wonder

Many of us can remember a day when the sun shines high in front of us and a majestic rainbow appears in the distance. Perhaps as a child or even your own child looking out the window gasping in awe. During times of great mist and rainy weather, we all know this... but why?

Chasing a Rainbow


Sumerian mythology

The Epic of Gilgamesh, Sumerian king (ca.3000 BC), is the first detailed written evidence of human civilization. In a Victorian translation of a Gilgamesh variant, Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton's Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar, King Izdubar sees "a mass of colors like the rainbow’s hues" that are "linked to divine sanction for war." Later in the epic, Izdubar see's the "glistening colors of the rainbow rise" in the fountain of life next to Elam’s Tree of Immortality.

The Sumerian farmer god, Ninurta, wears a crowm described as a rainbow and defends Sumer with a bow and arrow.

Norse mythology

The Bifrost is renowned as a rainbow bridge said to connect Earth with Asgard, home of the Norse gods. The gods and those killed in battle can only use the bifrost. It is eventually shattered under the weight of war - the Ragnarok. The mere notion that the rainbow bridge to heaven is only attainable by the good or virtuous, such as warriors and royalty is a common take on the world's mythos.

Another theory is that the symbolic meaning of Asgård at the end of the rainbow might be connected to ancient knowledge of chakras and their colors.

Greek mythology

The daughter of first-generation gods, Electra and Thaumas, Iris dresses in rainbow colors. "In the Greek pantheon, the antiquity of Iris is as great as her importance is small." As messenger of the gods, she flies on golden wings.

One task of Iris was to fill a golden jug with holy water for Zeus. Zeus then made misbehaving gods take a most binding oath on this holy water. The rainbow eventually became solely a mode of transportation for the elusive and unforgettable Iris.

Chinese mythology

Hsienpo and Yingt’ai are star-crossed lovers who must wait until the rainbow appears to be alone together. Hsienpo is the red in the rainbow, and Yingt’ai is the blue.

The Promise

Noah's Ark Rainbow
Noah's Ark Rainbow | Source


It was once stated in biblical times and still taught to this day regarding the purging of man, when God spoke unto Noah to Build an ark and collect two of every animal to repopulate the earth after God washed it clean of corruption. God then stated that the rainbow was a sign that it would never happen again, it was God's gift to man to know that they are further safe from such judgement:

Genesis 9:8-16

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations

Light Refraction
Light Refraction | Source
Degree's of color refraction
Degree's of color refraction | Source

Science Dropped

The Rainbow that you see is unique, only to you. Even though there are others near by they too will see a rainbow but it will be slightly different.

Rainbow's are an optical and meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection of light in water droplets in the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicolored arc.

Rainbow's are not as much of a bow or arch as it is a rain... circle? That's right a rainbow is a phenomenon where the light from behind you then get reflected from droplets of water back to your own eyeballs and where your head is in relation determines where the rainbow will be.

The 'Bow' happens because not only does the light become reflected but it also becomes refracted.

Refraction is when light enters a new medium, such as a water droplet. White light from the sun is refracted back through the water droplet though refraction is also an increase of speed within a wavelength and each wavelength is refracted differently they spread into different colors known to us as 'ROYGBIV'. The Rainbow is in relation to you individually by roughly 40-42 degree's of the angle of your head to your head's shadow.

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

Alexander's Dark Band
Alexander's Dark Band | Source

Double Rainbow! What does it mean...!?

The Double rainbow is the same as a normal rainbow but instead of having a single source of light it instead has light that reflects more within the raindrops. In order for this to get to your eyes the light needs to also be refracted by 50-53 degree's

The sky between the primary and secondary bows is noticeably darker than elsewhere.

The double rainbow was originally known as 'Alexander's Dark Band'. Alexander of Aphrodisias first described the effect in 200 AD.

Light rays undergoing a single reflection in raindrops form the primary rainbow or brighten the sky inside it. Rays reflected twice are deviated to form the secondary bow or brighten the sky outside. Raindrops along lines of sight between the two bows cannot send light to your eye and so the sky is darker there.

Sea Spray Bow
Sea Spray Bow | Source

Sea Water Bow

The bow below the horizon does not match the one in the sky.

The upper bow is an ordinary bow made by falling rain.

The lower bow was formed by sea spray.

The sea water bow has a slightly smaller (by ~0.8°) radius because salty water refracts light more strongly than rainwater.

Moonbow | Source


A moonbow (also known as a lunar rainbow or space rainbow) is a rainbow produced by light reflected off the surface of the moon as opposed to direct sunlight and are always in the opposite part of the sky from the moon. Moonbows are rather faint, due to the smaller amount of light reflected from the surface of the moon.

it is difficult for the human eye to discern colors in a moonbow because the light is usually too faint to excite the cone color receptors in human eyes thus, they often appear to be white.

A true moonbow is lit by the Moon itself, not directly by the Sun. In contrast, a colored rainbow (or a white fogbow) seen when the sun is rising or setting, or in twilight, is not a moonbow because it is still produced by sunlight.

Faux moonbows - Not a moonbow but a partial corona formed by moonlight diffracted by droplets in a cloud. A 22° halo produced by refraction through hexagonal ice crystals in cirrus cloud forms a soft white circle around the moon. The corona are colored rings close to the moon which are a diffraction phenomenon produced by very small water droplets or even ice crystals in clouds.

The sweet smell of rain


petrichor (PET-ri-kuhr) noun

The pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.

[From petro- (rock), from Greek petros (stone) + ichor (the fluid that is supposed to flow in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology). Coined by researchers I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas.]

So the next time it is about to rain or you notice that familiar moist smell just remember you are smelling Petrichor, the blood of stone, the blood of the gods.


Vsauce - Special Thanks for the inspiration


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