A theory for the brightness of rainbows is presented. The light reaching the observer consists of a beam of singly scattered sunlight, originating from the directly illuminated portion of a rainswath, which, in turn, has suffered depletion by scattering or absorption in its path through the atmosphere. The model incorporates the relevant features of cloud geometry and solar position in relation to the observer appropriate to rainbows. The model helps explain why the bottom (or near-horizon portion) of the rainbow tends to be both brighter and redder than the top (or horizontal portion furthest above the ground) when the sun is near the horizon. The greater brightness of the bottom of the bow derives principally from the greater length of the directly illuminated part of the rainswath near the horizon, while the increased redness of the bow’s bottom is due to the severe depletion of the short-wavelength contribution to the rainbow beam in its passage through the atmosphere.
© 1982 Optical Society of America
Original Manuscript: March 6, 1982
Published: August 15, 1982
Stanley David Gedzelman, "Rainbow brightness," Appl. Opt. 21, 3032-3037 (1982)