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Unpaired reflection rainbow


Webcam Cully at Lake Geneva on May 25th, 2016. By courtesy of

The ever growing number of webcams is worth to be checked for both common and rare atmospheric optics phenomena, e.g., like in the case of these twinned rainbow, rainbow at high and low sun (1234), red rainbows (1234) or moonbows (1234).

The Swiss webcam located in Cully at the North shore of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) has shown a most unusual pair of images within 10 minutes on May 25th, 2016. Starting from the last image (see top right) taken at 20.40 Central European Daylight Saving Time we see fragments of a normal primary rainbow before sunset, which happened at 21.08 CE-DST. From its beginnings on the lake’s surface it is immediately slanted toward the antisolar azimuth in the East.

However, the image taken 10 minutes earlier (see top left), at 20.30 CE-DST, shows not just a weaker bow, but also, that it starts at the lake’s surface slanted toward the West, i.e. away from the antisolar azimuth!

This strange sight is an isolated reflection rainbow, which is also centered on the antisolar point, but, at the solar elevation of 4.9°, somewhat larger than a semicircle, thus explaining the odd slant at its foot. The missing of a normal rainbow (except of, may be, a slight trace) in this image can be explained by a very patchy type of rainfall or shadowing of the corresponding regions. Additionally, the images show hints of a reflected rainbow and a reflected reflection rainbow, respectively, projected on to the lake’s surface.

Authors: Elmar Schmidt and Claudia Hinz

Oblique supernumeraries to the primary rainbow

August 1, 2015: Rainbow with oblique supernumeries. Photo: Claudia Hinz

August 1, 2015: Rainbow with oblique supernumeries. Photo: Claudia Hinz

Last fall, two AKM members observed a rainbow with supernumeraries, which were clearly oblique to the primary rainbow.

On August 1, 2015, they were observed by Claudia Hinz on a red rainbow just before sunset in the Fichtelgebirge / Erzgebirge mountains. A rain front had just passed and the last precipitation from the departing clouds evaporated in the air, so that the raindrops did not reach the ground anymore. Virga were clearly visible and at the same time an intensive Zero order glow could be seen at the Sun side.

On October 5, 2015, Sirko Molau observed in Günzburg/Bavaria a similar phenomenon. Also here the rain shower had already passed and a strip of blue skies was visible near the horizon. Over one hour after the rain Sirko was surprised to see a bright rudiment of the rainbow. On the first glimpse it looked like a split rainbow. However, a closer look revealed that two interference bows disemminated obliquely from the root of the rainbow.


October 5, 2015: Rainbow foot with oblique supernumeries. Photo: Sirko Molau

The oblique interference arcs can be explained best with different raindrop sizes. In both cases, the rainbow appeared after the rain had disapperead and just when the Sun showed up. We can assume that dry air had already moved in, causing the last drops to evaporate on their way to the ground. So the raindrops quickly reduced in size after they left the cloud. The simulation of Les Cowley shows that with reduced drop size not only the number, but also the distance of the interference bows decreases.

Authors: Claudia Hinz, Sirko Molau, Germany

Full Circle Rainbows

Most people know a rainbow only as a bow in semicircular shape which becomes smaller with increasing sun elevations and disappears beneath the horizon at a sun elevation of 42°. But this is only half of the truth, just as a complete rainbow is a full circle. But it is not easy to observe and photograph it in its full beauty. This is because the lower part of a rainbow can only appear when there are enough drops of water below the horizon to make it bright enough. During the last two months, both variations could be captured.

One case in which a rainbow can be seen as a full circle is when the sun shines through the spray of a waterfall. With the sun standing low behind the observer, the rainbow continues downward in front of the background, and with a little luck the full circle becomes visible. The photograph above was taken by Wolfgang Hinz on July 29, 2014 at the Seljalandsfoss-Waterfall in Iceland. More pictures: 123

But it is also possible to see the lower part of a rainbow from an airplane. During a flight on August 12, 2014, Peter Krämer could even look upon a part of a rainbow from above, whith the houses of the city of Essen behind it. But unfortunately the windows in a plane are rather small, so that a full circle rainbow can only be seen from the cockpit. But nevertheless, Peter Krämer could catch the right part of the rainbow when the pilot made a light left turn  (12).

The lower part of a rainbow can also be seen from a mountain. Here it is necessary that opposite the sun rain falls into a deep valley. In the morning of July 8, 2014, Claudia Hinz saw a rainbow which appeared on an approaching rain front from Mt. Zugspitze (2963m), the right part of which excended downwards until the village of Ehrwald. As the sun was just rising, the spectral colours were filtered out of the sunlight by the atmosphere due to the oblique angle in which the sunlight fell in. So the rainbow showed only a long waved red colour. The other colours appeared only a few minutes later (123).


Authors: Claudia Hinz, Peter Krämer, Germany

Extremely red rainbow

This red rainbow appeared while the sun was setting and persisted even some minutes after sunset. At that time it was rather dusky already, and the glowing tops of the distant Alps appeared rather unreal. A short time later, a red rainbow appeared, showing an intense red colour which in this intensity I had never seen before. It showed its maximum intensity about 5 minutes after the calculative sunset, but the sun had already sunk behind a mountain some time before. After only a few minutes, rainbow and afterglow faded away simultaneously. The picture is a panorama made of 4 portrait frames with the single frames slightly underexposed, but not processed. The pictures are taken at ISO 800, shutter time 1/40 sec, f/4,5, and a polarizer was used.

At such low sun elevations, all short waved colours of the light are scattered away on the long way through the atmosphere, leaving only the long waved red light behind. This red light reaches the observer´s eyes as alpenglow and as a red rainbow. As, due to their altitude, the clouds (in this case altocumulus in about 3.000 metres) receive sunlight even longer than the ground, in rare cases a rainbow can even be visible after sunset.


On May 13, 2008, I was flying to Tunisia. Just before the plane landed in Monastir, I looked out of the window and saw a faint onset of a red rainbow. About one minute later, the rain became heavier, and the bow became more intensive, even below the horizon. Unfortunately, the plane landed about two minutes later, and I could not see if the red rainbow was visible from the ground.

Author: Michael Großmann, Kämpfelbach, Germany