How do rainbows get their colors?

Welcome to our new lesson about rainbows. During this lesson we will learn:

  • What colors are in a rainbow?
  • What seasons do rainbows appear?
  • Do you need rain for a rainbow?

A rainbow is a phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction (bending) and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky.

This lesson comes at the perfect time because it's spring. Most rainbows occur during the season of spring because we have sunshine and rain, both needed for a rainbow to form. In winter, water droplets freeze to snow so rainbows are not seen. Raindrops are typically the water source but a rainbow can be seen next to waterfalls or a mist. After light in one part of the sky and rain from another part mix, an arc of colors appears opposite from the sun.

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet make up the colors of a rainbow. A way to remember this is ROYGBIV. These seven colors are what are visible to the human eye.

Here are 3 fun experiments to try:

1. Take a glass of water and a piece of paper to a sunny location, hold the glass above the paper and watch the sunlight pass through the glass of water, refract and form a rainbow. Move your glass around to see different angles of the rainbow.

2. Stand with your back toward the sun, turn your garden hose on and use your thumb to create mist. A rainbow will appear in different sizes and strengths. Perfect for kids!

3. Fill a dish with water, place it in direct sunlight, place a mirror inside the dish and aim it towards the sun. When the mirror catches the sun it reflects through the dish.

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