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Home --> Photo Gallery --> Natural Phenomena --> Fire Rainbow

Fire Rainbow

Claim:   Photograph shows a "fire rainbow" over Idaho.

Status:   True.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

THIS IS A FIRE RAINBOW — THE RAREST OF ALL NATURALLY OCCURING ATMOSPHERIC PHENOMENA.

THE PICTURE WAS CAPTURED ON THE IDAHO/WASHINGTON BORDER. THE EVENT LASTED ABOUT 1 HOUR.

CLOUDS HAVE TO BE CIRRUS, AT LEAST 20K FEET IN THE AIR, WITH JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF ICE CRYSTALS AND THE SUN HAS TO HIT THE CLOUDS AT PRCEISELY 58 DEGREES.

Fire rainbow

Origins:   This is a real photograph of an atmospheric phenomenon known as a circumhorizon(tal) arc, the example shown above was captured on camera as it hung for about an hour across a several-hundred square mile area of sky above northern Idaho (near the Washington border) on 3 June 2006.

In general, a circumhorizontal arc (or "fire rainbow") appears when the sun is high in the sky (i.e., higher than 58° above the horizon), and its light passes through diaphanous, high-altitude cirrus clouds made up of hexagonal plate crystals. Sunlight entering the crystals' vertical side faces and leaving through their bottom faces is refracted (as through a prism) and separated into an array of visible colors. When the plate crystals in cirrus clouds are aligned optimally (i.e., with their faces parallel to the ground), the resulting display is a brilliant spectrum of colors reminiscent of a rainbow.

Last updated:   5 July 2006

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2014 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
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  Sources Sources:
    Gilman, Victoria.   "Rare 'Rainbow' Spotted Over Idaho."
    National Geographic News.   19 June 2006.

    Swain, Mike.   "What an Ice Rainbow!"
    The Daily Mirror.   8 June 2006.