The Science Behind Rainbows - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

The Science Behind Rainbows

Posted: Updated:
They've inspired countless fairy tales, songs and legends, and they somehow always manage to stop us in our tracks to admire their beauty. They're rainbows, and the science behind them all has to do with the process of refraction.

Refraction is the bending, or more accurately the changing of direction of light.  This happens because light travels at different speeds through different mediums. To break it down even further, light is made up of seven different colors, each of which have different frequencies, and therefore travel at different speeds.  The speed at which each color travels determines how much it gets refracted, or bent.

In the case of a rainbow, sunlight travels through raindrops. As this occurs, each color, from red to violet, gets separated. These colors of light then exit the raindrop, which forms what we see as a rainbow.

Perhaps the coolest thing about rainbows is that no matter how many people see the same one, your viewpoint is unique only to you, as each color of light exits at just the right angle to be visible to your eyes.

Unfortunately, the raindrops have to be a certain distance from your eyes for a rainbow to be visible, so no matter how you move, the rainbow will always be the same distance from away from you.  If you had any hopes of finding a pot of gold, sadly there's no reaching the end of a rainbow. 

If there is a weather phenomenon you'd like to see explained, you can contact First Alert Meteorologist Tyler Eliasen at