Sometimes, There is No Pot of Gold

Little leprechauns. Lots of green. Pots of gold. People pinching each other. These are a few signature traits of St. Patrick’s Day. As for the myth that the gold is always at the end of the rainbow, it turns out that sometimes, there is no end to the rainbow—at least, chemically speaking.

Here are four facts about rainbows, according to scientific research:

1. Two people never see the same rainbow. One person’s perspective of a rainbow depends on the angle of the raindrops, the position of the sun, and the spot from which the rainbow is being observed. Even though you and a friend may be looking in the same direction, you are in different places, so the rainbow you each see will appear differently.[1]

2. Rainbows that appear after dark are called moonbows. The light that refracts off the water drops comes from the moon instead of the sun. So why aren’t rainbows that appear during the day called sunbows?[2]

3. Rainbows are rarely seen at noon[3]. It is easier to see them in the morning and evening because of the angle at which the sun has to hit water droplets in the air. The sun must hit the water at a 42-degree angle, which is hard to do when it is higher than 42 degrees in the sky.

4. A full-circle rainbow is called a glory rainbow. When the same atmospheric conditions that create a rainbow are observed from an airplane, a rainbow can appear to be a full circle. This is called a glory, which NASA defines as an optical phenomenon that “looks like small, circular rainbows of interlocking colors.[4]

When looking at a rainbow from above the horizon, there is no end to its circle. And thus, there is no place for the pot of gold.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from CPMS!


-Madison Parks, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences








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