Rainbows Are More Than Just A Beautiful View, Researchers Say

Posted: Aug 29 2016, 10:11am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Rainbows are More than Just a Beautiful View, Researchers Say
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A better scientific understanding of this natural phenomena can provide more insight into the physics of rain

Rainbows are far more complex than just a pretty arch of colors visible in the stormy sky. Experts believe these colorful bands can be indicative of chemical contamination in the atmosphere and better scientific understanding of rainbows can reveal fascinating interaction between light, liquid and gas.

Alexander Haußmann from Institute of Applied Physics at the Technical University of Dresden is fascinated by the rainbows and has been studying this natural phenomena for more than two decades. Haußmann believes rainbow can provide insight into the physics of rain. Of course, we know the general details. Water vapor rises in the air and forms a fine mist of water droplets. When these droplets get large enough, they trigger rain.

However, the scattered light in rainbow can offer significant clues to the size distribution and shape of raindrops falling during wet weather. If combined with radar data, rainbows can help track how much rain fall on the ground and could be used as a useful for measuring atmospheric water in both vapor and liquid forms.

“Rain drops are not exactly spherical, but become deformed into slightly flattened ‘hamburger bun’ shapes due to air drag as they fall through the sky. This has a drastic influence on the appearance of rainbows and makes scattering calculations numerically very demanding,” said Haußmann.

“If our analysis methods are precise enough, we can turn rainbows into optical remote sensing tools to study the physics of rain.”

Rainbows are visible when the sun shines onto water drops floating in the air and their appearance are predominantly affected by the altitude of the sun and the size of raindrops.

"Rainbows are short-lived and special phenomena such as twinned bows are pretty rare, so it's important to always have your camera to hand,” says Haußmann. "This can be a smartphone or, in my case, an SLR camera with a fisheye lens to capture the full width of a rainbow in a single frame."

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