Shaking Raindrops Wash out Rainbows

By Peterson, I. | Science News, January 6, 1990 | Go to article overview

Shaking Raindrops Wash out Rainbows


Peterson, I., Science News


Shaking raindrops wash out rainbows

Not every raindrop contributes to a rainbow's appearance. for instance, large drops, which get flattened by air pressure into a shape resembling a hamburger bun, are too distorted to add significantly to the colors seen in a rainbow's upper portion. The recent discovery that small, nearly spherical drops can oscillate has now led scientists to add a further restriction on the sizes of raindrops that help create a rainbow.

"Our discovery of the natural oscillations [of raindrops having diameters between 1 and 1.5 millimeters] would seem to exclude most raindrops from contributing to the rainbow," says Kenneth V. Beard of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That means raindrops less than 1 mm in diameter -- practically drizzle -- must be the major contributors. "They don't suffer from the distorting effects of oscillations, and they are nearly spherical," Beard told SCIENCE NEWS.

The brilliant, multicolored arc of a rainbow represents the combined effect of reflections within innumerable raindrops. Different colors of light emerge from each drop at different angles, spraying reflected light over a large part of the sky opposite the sun. …

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