Home Nature  Have You Ever Seen a Moonbow ?

 Have You Ever Seen a Moonbow ?

Everyone has seen a rainbow at least once in their lives. What about a moonbow? Have you ever seen one of those? You may also hear moonbows referred to as lunar rainbows. They are a kind of rainbow created by the shimmers of the moon’s beams rather than the sun’s rays.

It forms exactly like a solar rainbow, with the only difference being the origin of the light. It is produced when water droplets in the air reflect light, as occurs during rain or a waterfall. They always seem to be located on the opposite side of the sky from the Moon from the perspective of the viewer.

A blood-red night rainbow above Scotland around 10 p.m.

Image credit: Stefan Lee Goodwin

Moonbows are far dimmer than daylight rainbows and have been documented at least as far back as Aristotle’s Meteorology (about 350 BC). This is due to the fact that the Moon’s surface reflects less light than the Earth’s does. Because the light from a moonbow is often too weak to stimulate our eyes’ color receptors, it is more harder for us to make out individual colors. Because of this, most people only only see a white moonbow, however, long-exposure images may reveal their true hues.

Stunning lunar rainbow near Kihei, Maui, Hawaii.

Image credit: Arne-kaiser

Moonbows may most easily be seen during or just after a full moon. In clear weather, the Moon will be at its brightest about that time. Moonbows only emerge when the Moon is extremely close to the horizon (less than 42 degrees, preferably lower) and the sky is very black. Unfortunately, you can only see moonbows two to three hours before dawn or after sunset, since the sky isn’t fully black during a rising or setting full moon. As one may expect, there should also be water vapor and/or precipitation opposite the Moon.

These conditions mean that moonbows are significantly less common than solar rainbows. Their occurrence is far lower than that of regular rainbows, at less than 1%. Moonbows may sometimes be observed during the full moon rise in the winter at high latitudes when the sky is cloudy and it is raining. The colors may be altered or perhaps lost entirely depending on the size of the airborne water droplets. As their size decreases, their color saturation also decreases.

The nighttime rainbow above Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia.

Image credit: Garry

Spray, fog, or mist may also provide the same effect as rain to create a moonbow. Numerous waterfalls around the United States include similar bows, such as Niagara Falls in New York, Yosemite National Park in California, and Cumberland Falls in Kentucky (not far from Corbin). Spray moonbows are another reason why Victoria Falls, which separates Zambia and Zimbabwe, is so well-known.

Spray-induced moonbow at Victoria Falls (Zambia side).

Image credit: CalvinBradshaw

Moonbows: How are they identified?

Video source: Gfycat

As was said above, moonbows may only be seen in the days immediately before and after a full moon. Even yet, it is only true when seen against a pitch-black sky either just before dawn or just before night falls. Summer full moons in the mid-latitudes are ideal for moonbows since the Moon is closer to the horizon at that time. During other times of the year, a moonbow may only be seen for an hour at most.

Image credit: Terje Nesthus

Always keep an eye out for a faint moonbow during wet weather. Even though you won’t be able to make out many hues, you can simply catch them with a tripod and camera.

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