A rainbow is an excellent demonstration of the dispersion of light and evidence that visible light is composed of a spectrum of wavelengths To view

a rainbow, your back must be to the sun as you look at an approximately 40 degree angle above the ground into the atmosphere with suspended droplets of water . Each individual droplet of water acts as a tiny prism that both disperses the light and reflects it back to your eye. Wavelengths of light associated with a specific color arrive at your eye from the collection of droplets. The net effect of the vast array of droplets is the rainbow The Path of Light Through a Droplet A collection of suspended water droplets serves as a refractor of light. Water has different optical density than the surrounding air. Light waves refract when they cross over the boundary from one medium to another. There are countless paths by which light rays from the sun can pass through a drop. One path of great significance in the discussion of rainbows is the path in which light refracts into the droplet, internally reflects, and then refracts out of the. This results dispersion of light into a spectrum of colors. The shorter wavelength blue and violet light refract a slightly greater amount than the longer wavelength red light. Since the boundaries are not parallel to each other, the double refraction results in a distinct separation of the sunlight into its component colors. The angle of deviation between the incoming light rays from the sun and the refracted rays directed to the observer's eyes is approximately 42 degrees for the red light. Because of the tendency of shorter wavelength blue light to refract more than red light, its angle of deviation from the original sun rays is approximately 40 degrees. The greatest concentration of outgoing rays is found at these 40-42 degree angles of deviation. At these angles, the dispersed light is bright enough to result in a rainbow display in the sky. An observer on the ground observes a half-circle of color. from an airplane in the sky may know that a rainbow can actually be a complete circle. Observers on the ground only view the top half of the circle since the bottom half of the circular arc is prevented by the presence of the ground

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