It’s June and everything’s coming up rainbows! Because unique market segments make for juicy targets under capitalism, and I guess that’s what we are now that “dangerous criminal deviant” has become passé. What a time to be alive, huh? One minute I’m thinking about corporate exploitation of low income members of our community and feeling repulsed by NYC Pride™’s priorities; the next I’m pondering which rainbow sneakers would make my feet look gayest and gleefully “pride” reacting everything in sight. Life under President 45 is grim and shocking, and I’ll take small joys wherever I can find them.
In that spirit — here are five facts about rainbows! Everything is fucked, but at least we still have science and each other. Happy pride, however you do or don’t celebrate.
1. Isaac Newton originated “ROYGBIV” because he thought the range of visible colors should be analogous to the seven note musical scale of traditional Western music.
Video via The Atlantic.
Newton came up with the seven designations after projecting white light through a prism onto a wall and having a friend mark the boundaries between colors. Though the classification was largely arbitrary, it continues to be taught in schools today.
Interestingly, you’ll note that pride imagery typically show only six distinct colors today, although the original flag included eight.
2. The sky above a rainbow is darker than the sky below a rainbow.
None of the light can make it out above red, because each color refracts at a particular maximum angle. Here’s Physics Girl with more:
3. In addition to single rainbows, there are double rainbows, tertiary rainbows, quaternary rainbows, supernumerary rainbows, and twinned rainbows.
Here’s Maddie Moate creating a circular rainbow and explaining double rainbow physics:
See also: LeVar Burton’s breakdown of double rainbows and National Geographic’s coverage of atmospheric scientist Jean Ricard’s rainbow classification scheme.
4. If we lived on Tatooine (or a non-fictional planet that orbited two suns and had raindrops made of water or something with similar refractive properties), rainbows would always be overlapping.
Yup! For the full explanation, check out xkcd.
5. Similar to rainbows, a “glory” is a highly distorted image of the sun reflected off aerosols in the atmosphere, but with rays passing near droplets (instead of directly through them).
The above photo is the first sighting of a full extraterrestrial glory, taken by ESA’s Venus Express orbiter in July 2011. Here at home, glories are most often seen by air travelers looking down at the clouds, or hikers atop misty mountain peaks. Nature has a good piece on the phenomenon, including what the above photo signified for scientists studying Venus’s atmosphere.
Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.
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