Fun Facts About Rainbows

People have been asking questions about rainbows since the beginning of time- well, at least since Noah and the Ark.   


Q: Perhaps the most frequently asked questions is the one that children always want to know.  How far away is the rainbow? 

A: It’s hard to give an exact answer to that one.  See, the real question is how far away are the raindrops that produce the rainbow?  Judging the distance between you and a raincloud is not an easy feat, especially if the raincloud is moving.  Scientifically, though, the rainbow's distance extends from the nearest to the farthest raindrops that contribute any part of the colored light. The closest of these raindrops may be miles away. In the case of a lawn sprinkler induced rainbow, you can actually reach out and touch the water droplets that create the rainbow. 

Q:  Can you go under a rainbow's arch and come out the other side?

A: Not according to the laws of physics. A rainbow is all light and water. It is always in front of you while your back is to the sun. 

Q: Do two people ever see the same rainbow?

A: No. When you look at the rainbow, you are seeing the light bounced off of certain raindrops.  When the person standing next to you looks at the same rainbow, they will see the light reflecting off other raindrops from a completely different angle.  So, since the eyes of two people cannot occupy the same place in space at the same time, each observer sees a different rainbow. Each rainbow is unique in its own spectacular way!

Q: Is the rainbow always shaped like an arch?

Funny thing, the rainbow isn’t actually an arch, it’s a circle.  The reason we don’t see the other half of the rainbow is because we cannot see the water droplets in the air below the horizon. But, the higher we are above the ground, the more of the rainbow circle we can see. That is why, from an airplane in flight, a rainbow will appear as a complete circle with the shadow of the airplane in the center.

Q: What are the biblical passages that talk about rainbows?

A:  The first rainbow in scripture appears in the well known Sunday School story where Noah built an alter to the Lord, after the flood.  It symbolized a new beginning and God’s covenant with man that He would never again flood all the earth as punishment for human sin.  What many people don’t know is that this is not rainbow reference in scripture.  In fact, Ezekiel talks about how the rainbow symbolizes the coming of Christ and declares the glory of God.  Even less known is the John’s account in Revelation when he described Christ as "clothed with a cloud and a rainbow on His head". 


*It was Sir Isaac Newton who discovered that sunlight falling upon a prism could split into its component colors. This process is known as dispersion.  Newton named the component colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Most of these are easy to distinguish except for indigo. Legend has it that Newton included indigo because he felt that there should be seven rather than six colors in a rainbow due to his strong religious beliefs. 

*Rainbows can also be seen during night time! Moonlight can produce enough light to create a rainbow at night. “This is a lunar rainbow or 'moonbow'. Moonbows are rare because moonlight is not very bright. A bright moon (almost full) is needed, it must be raining opposite the moon, the sky must be dark and the moon must be less than 42º high. Put all these together and you do not get to see a moonbow very often! To the unaided eye they usually appear without color because their light is not bright enough to activate the cone color receptors in our eyes. Nonetheless colors have been reported and might be seen when the moon is bright.”