Moonbow….Really?

By  | November 29, 2017 | Filed under: Interesting Facts, News

A moonbow (also known as a lunar rainbow or white rainbow), is a rainbow produced by light reflected off the surface of the moon (as opposed to direct sunlight) refracting off of moisture laden clouds in the atmosphere. Moonbows are relatively faint, due to the smaller amount of light reflected from the surface of the moon. They are always in the opposite part of the sky from the moon.

Because the light is usually too faint to excite the cone color receptors in human eyes, it is difficult for the human eye to discern colors in a moonbow. As a result, they often appear to be white. However, the colors in a moonbow do appear in long exposure photographs.

Moonbows are most easily viewed when the moon is at or nearest to its brightest phase full moon. For true moonbows to have the greatest prospect of appearing, the moon must be low in the sky (at an elevation of less than 42 degrees, preferably lower) and the night sky must be very dark. Since the sky is not completely dark on a rising/setting full moon, this means they can only be observed 2 to 3 hours before sunrise (a time with few observers), or 2 to 3 hours after sunset. And, of course, there must be rain falling opposite the moon. This combination of requirements makes moonbows much rarer than rainbows produced by the sun.

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