Searching for the End of a Rainbow

At the end of a rainbow, according to Irish folklore, lies a leprechaun’s pot of gold. In reality, however, the true end of a rainbow is impossible to locate.

A rainbow is an optical phenomenon that forms when water droplets in the air both refract and reflect sunlight to reveal the colors of the visible spectrum in an arch formation. It is not a physical entity that can be touched or approached. To see them, the National Center for Atmospheric Research says you need to be both facing the source of moisture and be standing at a 42° angle to the sun’s rays.

This specific line of sight means that no two people will ever see the exact same rainbow. It also means that as you attempt to move closer to the rainbow, the further away it will appear. So, try as you might, you will never get close enough to see a rainbow’s true terminus.

In the end, rainbows are all about perception.  For many people, even without the promise of a pot of gold, the joy of sighting a beautiful rainbow is reward enough.  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Rainbow appears to end in the Atlantic Ocean off Bermuda's coastline.  Image Credit: The Weather Gamut

A rainbow appears to end in the Atlantic Ocean off Bermuda’s coastline.                      Image Credit: The Weather Gamut.