How Unique Are Rainbows?

Think there's just that one type of rainbow, with the seven colors of the spectrum? Think again.

According to a new classification system, there are 12 types of rainbows, including some that lack certain colors.
According to a new classification system, there are 12 types of rainbows, including some that lack certain colors.

Atmospheric scientist Jean Ricard has come up with a rainbow classification system in which he outlines the 12 types of rainbows. Some of the most intriguing include the "double rainbow," in which a duplicate rainbow appears above another, with the colors in reverse order. Other rainbows lack certain colors, including one that is only red and blue.

Ricard's system is meant to replace the old way of classifying rainbows, which divided them based on the size of the raindrops that formed them. Ricard worked with a team to pore over and separate hundreds of rainbow photos into categories based on how clearly the color bands can be seen, how intense the dark band is, and the presence of supernumerary -- additional -- color bands. According to Ricard, the new system is ideal for everyone. All you need to do is look at a picture of a rainbow in order to put it in a class and thus understand the nature of that rainbow.

Rainbow wonders:

  • If you view a rainbow from above, you can see it form a complete circle -- which helps explain why you'll never find that pot of gold.

  • As much fun as traveling to another planet might be, you won't see a rainbow anywhere in the solar system except on Earth.

  • Ancient Greeks and Romans believed rainbows linked humans to the immortals.

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Discussion Comments

dimchild

Do rainbows serve any scientific purpose?

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    • According to a new classification system, there are 12 types of rainbows, including some that lack certain colors.
      According to a new classification system, there are 12 types of rainbows, including some that lack certain colors.