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Overview         (For age - group : 11 - 16 )

Did you know that rainbow and secondary rainbow are result of three different optical effects : reflection, refraction and dispersion taking place in a drop of water that acts like a prism. This animated school science topic explains light properties through ray diagrams and a common example of rainbow. Very useful for students to understand the atmospheric refraction and light wavelength concepts.

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This file contains details of rainbow and the mechanism behind its creation

rainbow is formed due to droplets of water
dispersion takes place inside water droplet
rainbow is formed due to droplets of water suspended in air
Light divides into its component colors inside a water droplet acting like a prism
colors in a rainbow
secondary rainbow
Water droplets act as a prism to produce beautiful colors in a rainbow
Secondary rainbow
Details of the animation/ movie /software

A rainbow is caused by three important optical effects: reflection, refraction, and dispersion, all working together.The rainbow forms when sunlight passes over your head and illuminates falling raindrops in the sky in front of you. This sunlight enters each spherical raindrop, partially reflects from the back surfaces of the raindrop, and then leaves the raindrop and heads toward you. The raindrop helps some of the sunlight make a near U-turn. But the path that the light follows after it enters the raindrop depends on its color.

The colored rays of light then partially reflect from the back surface of the raindrop because any change in light's speed also causes partial reflection. Now the various colors are on their way back toward you and the sun. The light bends again as it emerges from the raindrop and the various colors leave it traveling in different directions.

Only one color of light will be aimed properly to reach your eyes. But there are other raindrops above and below it that will also send light backward and some of that light will also reach your eyes. But this light will be a different color.

What you see when you observe the rainbow is the lights that many different raindrops send back toward your eyes. The upper raindrops send their red light toward your eyes while the lower raindrops send their violet light toward your eyes. You see a series of colored bows from these different raindrops.

Occasionally more than one rainbow is seen, the main or primary is sometimes accompanied by a fainter and higher secondary rainbow. The less frequently seen rainbow is caused by double internal reflection. This results in an arc whose vertical color sequence is the inverse of the primary rainbow's.

We generally see only rainbow arcs, because the formation of water droplets is cut off at the ground. If we were on a cliff, we could see a complete circular rainbow. Also the higher the sun is in the sky , the less of a rainbow we will be able to see from the ground.

If you are still unclear about the concepts, please refer the animation below.

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