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  • Janet Anaedu

Over the Radical Rainbows

By Janet Anaedu

Image credit Eric Ralph, Wikimedia Commons

Special to the Enterprise


Rainbows, those beautiful bands of color that grace the sky after rain, have fascinated people for ages. They show us how sunlight and water work together to create something magical. At the center of a rainbow is the interaction between sunlight and tiny water droplets in the air. Sunlight, which contains all colors from red to violet, enters these droplets and goes through a series of changes: refraction and reflection.


Refraction happens when light bends as it enters a water droplet, because light travels differently through water than through air. This bending is different for each color of light; shorter wavelengths like blue bend more than longer ones like red. Inside the droplet, light reflects off its inner surface, changing its direction again. When the light exits the droplet, it bends again, spreading out into all the colors we see in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet which is remembered as ROYGBIV. Each color corresponds to a specific wavelength, with red having the longest wavelength and violet the shortest.


Scientists use experiments with prisms or controlled water surfaces to understand how rainbows form. These experiments help them see how light behaves in different situations and confirms their theories about how light spreads out into colors in the atmosphere. The colors we see in a rainbow can change based on factors like the size of the water droplets and the angle of sunlight. Larger droplets create more vivid rainbows. The angle of the sun affects where the rainbow appears in the sky for us to see. These differences make each rainbow sighting unique and special.


Rainbows have cultural and symbolic meanings across many societies. They have been symbols of hope and renewal in art, stories, and myths. The brief appearance of a rainbow reminds us of the magical beauty and connections in nature.


Rainbows show us how nature combines physics and beauty. By studying how light bends, reflects, and spreads, we can learn how rainbows form and deepen our understanding of the natural world. Rainbows not only teach us about science but also inspire wonder, reminding us of our link to the amazing world around us.


Explorit's coming events:


•       Explorit is open Fridays from 1-4pm and Saturday and Sundays from 10am-2pm. The current exhibit is “Our WILD World”. Admission is $5 per person, free for Explorit Members and those aged 2 and under.

•       There are a few spots open in Summer Camp “Galactic Adventure” for 3rd-5th graders. Camp is July 22-26 from 9am-12pm. Visit our website for more information or to register

•       Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:

•       A Membership to Explorit grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world.  To purchase or for more information visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.


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