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The physics of rainbows



No one can deny the awe felt when seeing a rainbow. The refraction of white light through prisms is a fascinating topic. It's easy to understand that light can be separated into the six colors of rainbow-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. But how exactly does it work?

When light is shined through a prism, the energy of the light is absorbed by the atoms of the material. If the frequency of the light wave doesn't match the frequency of the vibrating electrons, the energy is reemitted by the atom. The light wave then travels through the "interatomic vacuum" and into the next atom in the material. This disturbance in the energy of the atoms causes the different frequencies of each color of light to separate and disperse in all different directions. The minuscule water droplets in clouds act as tiny prisms, and in the right conditions, refract sunlight. All of these tiny prisms are what cause the rainbows we see in the sky!


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