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Rainbows - Nature's Light Show
March 17, 2005 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Rainbows, pots of gold, and leprechauns are images that come to mind on St. Paddy’s Day. They are beautiful to behold, but how much do you really know about rainbows? Did you know that there are double, triple, and supernumerary rainbows, that no two people ever see the same rainbow, and that rainbows consist of more than just the ROYGBIV colors? Rainbows permeate mythology, prophecy, spirituality, symbolism, mentality, and sexuality. Rainbows are a job for one, a link to the past for some, and a hope for the future for others.
posted by debralee (24 comments total)

 
WARNING:
Some of the rainbow pictures are NSW.
posted by JtJ at 6:43 AM on March 17, 2005


This is a nice post, plus I learned a couple of things, like how the colours are reversed for a secondary rainbow. Thanks, debralee.
posted by freddles at 6:58 AM on March 17, 2005


..."no two people ever see the same rainbow"

That's ever so slightly misleading.
posted by nthdegx at 7:06 AM on March 17, 2005


A few weeks ago whilst in a plane I saw a rainbow from above, seemingly sitting on top of the clouds. It was completely circular, and rather small and far away. Anyone else seen a rainbow like that?
posted by leibniz at 7:40 AM on March 17, 2005


They can also be circular, aka glories. (Self-link, sort of. My husband wrote up a page on them after he photographed one when he were on a plane trip.)

On preview: leibniz, that was a glory. :)
posted by livii at 7:40 AM on March 17, 2005


I've only seen a double once, on the train between Edinburgh and Glasgow. : >

It was so weird in Italy--seeing rainbow flags (and the word PACE) all over, and then finally learning that they were anti-Iraq things, and not gay pride.
posted by amberglow at 7:42 AM on March 17, 2005


It was so weird in Italy--seeing rainbow flags (and the word PACE) all over, and then finally learning that they were anti-Iraq things, and not gay pride.

hehe... I noticed that too when I was there last summer. My brother (who is gay) was awfully disappointed when he found out.
posted by clevershark at 7:58 AM on March 17, 2005


Here's a double taken at my house two weeks ago. First I've ever seen. Oh yeah, I'm 3/4 Irish and my birthday was yesterday. I want my pot o' gold...

Rainbows!
posted by lyam at 8:07 AM on March 17, 2005


You can never...
actually reach the end of a rainbow, where a pot of gold supposedly awaits. As you move, the rainbow that your eyes see moves as well, because the raindrops are at different spots in the atmosphere. The rainbow, then, will always "move away" at the same rate that you are moving.


There's ALWAYS some damn catch!
posted by HTuttle at 8:14 AM on March 17, 2005


Do two people ever see the same rainbow? No. As the eyes of two people cannot occupy the same place in space at the same time, each observer sees a different rainbow.

Umm... so what makes rainbows different in this respect from any other non-static object or visual phenomenon? Two people never see the same sunset, snowstorm, river, waterfall, Aurorea borealis, NASCAR race, boxing match, very large person jumping off a diving board and doing a cannonball dive that splashes everyone around the pool...
posted by Creosote at 8:21 AM on March 17, 2005


Wow, a reference to The Rainbow Family on MeFi. Honestly, I never thought I'd see the day.

I love the internet.
posted by afroblanca at 8:43 AM on March 17, 2005


debralee is secretly... Ronnie James Dio?
posted by Wolfdog at 9:07 AM on March 17, 2005


Do two people ever see the same rainbow?

Umm... so what makes rainbows different in this respect from any other non-static object or visual phenomenon?


I'm afraid this effect is more prevalent than the article suggests. Since when 2 people are looking at ANY object, they each have different photons hitting their eyes, they are not really seeing the same object. In the same manner, no 2 people ever hear the same sound or feel the same sensations. :)

So, in short, saying no 2 people ever see the same rainbow is meaningless pseudo-scientific crap.
posted by Bort at 9:26 AM on March 17, 2005


Late last year, my wife and I were driving home from a family get-together in northeast Georgia. It had been drizzling off and on most of the day, but right at sunset, the clouds started breaking up rapidly, despite the fact that rain was still falling.

As the sun was beginning to dip against the horizon directly in front of us, we caught a glimpse of a rainbow through the trees that were covering either side of the road. When we came to a break in the trees, we were absolutely astounded: the most perfect, vivid, blindingly bright and saturated double-rainbow I've ever seen.

Now, I've seen a quite few rainbows throughout my nearly thirty years, including some double rainbows - all of them together could not have matched the sheer glory of this one.

We pulled off the road and stood in the drizzle, holding our infant son, utterly speechless at what we were seeing. I had never imagined that a rainbow could be that bright, that huge - it covered a vast expanse of sky, from one side to the other. I don't know that I'll ever see a rainbow like that again; it reduced me to something very small and very humble for those few minutes we stood beside each other, quietly staring into the sky.

I am not exaggerating when I say my sense of color for the rest of the day was not as it usually is: everything seemed drab, dull, and uninteresting compared to my memories of that rainbow.

It sure is nice to be reminded, occasionally, of just how small and insignificant we are.

Thanks for the post; it brought my memories of that day back.
posted by bwilliams at 9:29 AM on March 17, 2005


"Do two people ever see the same rainbow?" Humphreys points out that "since the rainbow is a special distribution of colors (produced in a particular way) with reference to a definite point - the eye of the observer - and as no single distribution can be the same for two separate points, it follows that two observers do not, and cannot, see the same rainbow." In fact, each eye sees its own rainbow!!

I don't see what's so strange about that. No need to go into the silly of notion of observers. The appearance of a rainbow is defined from an observer point so a different observer means a different rainbow. This is unlike most objects where the observer moving doesn't create a whole new object.

Sheesh.
posted by nixerman at 9:46 AM on March 17, 2005


Let us not forget snowbows. (This one's a bit of a cheat, waterfall and all, but they are out there)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2005


Has anyone ever successfully captured the full arc of a rainbow in one frame? I find it impossible but not for lack of trying.
posted by Viomeda at 11:26 AM on March 17, 2005


I thought there was a kiss at the end of the rainbow...
posted by Down10 at 11:29 AM on March 17, 2005


That's a great photo, lyam.
posted by debralee at 12:19 PM on March 17, 2005


ah yes, I did see that lyam has accepted the challenge and made it look quite easy. However, even with a panoramic enlarged lens they are hard to center to get a impressive visible width in line with the horizon.
posted by Viomeda at 1:06 PM on March 17, 2005




Also, moonbows, a specialty of Cumberland Falls in Kentucky, (next one March 23-27, if skies are clear), though here are others in Oregon and just off St. John.
posted by Julie at 3:51 PM on March 17, 2005


And let's not omit the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls (Masonic offshoot, bane of my adolescence).
posted by postmodernmillie at 9:49 PM on March 17, 2005


Someday we'll find it.
posted by postmodernmillie at 9:52 PM on March 17, 2005


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