Astronomy

Moonbows



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Moonbows or lunar rainbows may sound like something out of a fairy tale or science fiction novel. If you have been lucky enough to see one you know how very real they are. Not to be shown up by daytimes rainbow, the moonbow is just one more of darkness's beauties.

Rainbows and moonbows both follow a 42 degree arc. Although rainbows are usually brightly colored, moonbows usually appear white. This is because the moonbow is made when light is reflected of the moon's surface. This makes them appear lighter than rainbows, which are made from direct sunlight. Since our eyes cannot discern the different colors in the darkness, we get impression that the moonbow is white. If you take a picture of the moonbow and develop the film properly you will see all of the colors in the moonbow. Cell phones and cracker jack cameras are not the best for capturing this moment you will remember forever (and want proof to show all of your friends!).

There are certain places where the appearance of moonbows is fairly common. The two most popular are Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, by Corbin (many businesses in Corbin have actually named themselves after the moonbow) and Victoria Falls which is in Africa, between Zimbabwe and Zambia. They have also been spotted in Hawaii, and Yosemite Falls. Supposedly Niagara Falls used to have frequent moonbow sightings, but those have become a thing of the past as there is too much light coming from the cities and housing developments.

When the moon is low in the sky and almost full the mist from the waterfalls has the same effect on the moon that rain has on the sun. If there is moisture opposite the sun or moon, a rainbow or moonbow is created, respectively. Now, you don't necessarily have to be near a waterfall to see a moonbow. The waterfall just creates the droplets of moisture. A good rain or a misty night will do too.

Aristotle, Mark Twain and john Muir have all written about moonbows. In Muir's book, The Yosemite, he describes the moonbow-no rain required.

So, if after a good rain on a dark night with a full, bright moon present, go outside and see if maybe, just maybe, you can be witness to one of natures most unusual phenomenons. If you are a bit more adventurous, pack up the gang and head to the falls. It just might be the trip of a lifetime.

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More about this author: Lydia Fuller

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