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Science

Somewhere over the rainbow: fun facts about the colorful arches

Rainbows aren't just pretty, they're also cool examples of science at work, a symbol for the LGBT movement and - as some believe - a bridge to the world of the Norse gods.

How do rainbows form?

First things first - why do we even get to see glorious arches of color in the sky? It all has to do with the various colors contained in what we perceive as white sunlight. When seen through a prism, it splits into different colors which come from the different wavelengths of lights.

A rainbow is born when sunlight hits raindrops in the atmosphere. Each little droplet works as a prism, which splits up the light and makes for one of the most beautiful weather phenomena nature has to offer.

What colors are in a rainbow?

Starting on the outside, the colors in a rainbow are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. In English speaking countries, children sometimes learn to remember them with the acronym Roy G. Biv. There's even a spiffy song about a magical elf with that same name. Quick sample: "Roy G. Biv is a colorful man and he proudly stands at the rainbow's end." 


Where can I best see a rainbow?

You'll get the best view of the spectacle when part of the sky is still dark with rainclouds. So don't wait too long to spot a rainbow! You should be standing in a sunny position and facing the sun. This way, the colors should be especially bright and stand out against the dark background.

When do we get a double rainbow?

Sometimes you might catch a glimpse of not one, but two arcs. Two rainbows are caused by a double reflection of sunlight inside the raindrops. You'll notice that in the second, less brighter rainbow, the colors are arranged in opposite order to the first one.

The rainbow as the LGBT movement symbol

The rainbow flag is flown at many gay pride events. The colorful symbol has been associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement because it reflects the diversity of the LGBT community. The original gay pride, or rainbow flag, was created by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in the 1970s. The version in use today does not in fact mirror the colors of a real rainbow! The colors in the flag that's mostly been used since 1979 are red, orange, yellow, green, royal blue and purple, leaving out indigo.

What's at the end of a rainbow?

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Somewhere over the rainbow

A pot of gold! If you believe the Irish, that is. The myth of the treasure at the end of a rainbow has spread to many cultures - but there's one problem: a rainbow doesn't have a real end. It doesn't exist in a particular location. Where you see it simply depends on where you stand and where you see the light reflections in the atmosphere's rain droplets. Sorry! At least this means you won't have to fight off the leprechaun that supposedly guards the pot of gold.

Other cultures have other rainbow myths. In Norway, a burning rainbow is believed to connect Midgard, or Earth, and Asgard, the world of the Norse gods. Only gods, or men who died in battle, can cross it. In the US film classic "The Wizard of Oz," Judy Garland sings of a place without worries located "Somewhere over the rainbow." In some eastern European countries, it is believed that if you walk beneath a rainbow, you'll change genders. And for many peoples across the world, rainbows actually represent evil spirits that children mustn't look at. The pot of gold sure sounds a lot nicer.

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