Wonder Contributors

We’d like to thank all of our Wonder Friends who have been WONDERing about rainbows, including Ishita from India, Mary from Illinois, Nathan from California, and Ella from Pennsylvania!

What color is sunshine? When we see the light of the Sun streaming through the windows, it appears colorless. Even though we can’t see it, this “white” light is actually made up of many different colors of light. Each of these colors has a different wavelength.

In 1666, the famous scientist Isaac Newton discovered that if sunlight passed through a triangular piece of glass called a prism, the white light would split into a band of colors. This band of colors was made up of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet light. These are the colors of the rainbow in order. Some people remember them by the name ROY G. BIV.

The “birth” of a rainbow after a rainstorm works in a similar way. After it rains, the air in the atmosphere is filled with raindrops. Each raindrop acts like a tiny prism. If sunlight passes through raindrops at just the right angle, the light is split into an arc of colors with red on the outside of the band and violet on the inside.

The most brilliant rainbow displays occur when part of the sky is still dark with rainclouds and the viewer is in a sunny spot facing the Sun. This creates a very bright and vivid rainbow against the darkened background.

Sometimes it is possible to see a second arc or “double rainbow.” This is caused by a double reflection of sunlight inside the raindrops. The double reflection causes the colors of a second rainbow to arrange in the opposite order of the colors on a primary arc.

Secondary rainbows are fainter than primary rainbows for two reasons. First, the double reflection allows more light to escape. Second, a double rainbow arcs above the primary rainbow, which means it is spread out over a greater area of sky.

If you’re hoping to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you may be disappointed to find out there is no real end of the rainbow. This is because rainbows do not actually exist in a particular location in the sky. A rainbow’s position depends on the location of the observer and the position of the Sun.

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    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, etowns1! Thanks so much for letting us know you liked this Wonder of the Day® and for your GREAT comment! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know you like rainbows, Wonder Friend! We’re glad you got to learn more about them by visiting this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  1. Wow! This is very helpful…I was given an assignment on rainbows and am glad to find an answer here…thanks Wonderopolis!

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do rainbows appear?
  • What color is sunshine?
  • Where is the end of the rainbow?

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Wonder #116 - Rainbow Static Image2Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Wasn’t today’s Wonder of the Day beautiful? Be sure to check out the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Did you know there’s a rainbow hiding in every glass of water? Grab a small mirror and fill a glass with water, then click on over to learn how to make your own rainbow! Do you see it? Which do you think is more beautiful: the rainbow you made with a glass of water and a mirror or the ones you see in the sky after it rains? Why?
  • The next time it rains, head outside as it’s starting to taper off. Take a camera or a sketchbook with you. Search the sky for rainbows and, as soon as you find one, try to capture its beauty on camera or in a drawing. Isn’t Mother Nature an amazing artist? Enjoy spending some time outside chasing rainbows!
  • Up for a challenge? With the help of a friend or family member, come up with a new way to remember the order of the colors of a rainbow. Sure, Roy G. Biv has served us well over the years, but we think you can do much better. Use your imagination to create a new name or phrase that will help you remember the order of the colors of the rainbow. Share your new creation with other friends and family members. What do they think? Which do they prefer: Roy G. Biv or your new creation?

Still Wondering

Ever wonder about how cultures around the world “make” and celebrate rain? Visit ArtsEdge to explore a wide variety of resources about rain, including a science experiment that allows you to make your own rain, rain poetry, and how to make a rain stick.

 

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