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Why do rainbows have purple light?


The three primary colors of light are Red, Green, and Blue. Science tells us that we can create any 'color' of light by mixing varying amounts of those three colors. Red & Green make yellow light, green and blue make turquoise light, and red and blue make purple light. All the color combinations found in a rainbow, therefore make sense--except violet. If Red light has the 'longest' wavelength, putting it at one end of the spectrum, and blue light has the 'shortest' wavelength (of the primary colors of light, that is), putting it at the opposite end of the spectrum. In order to make purple light, you need red and blue. Red is obviously not repeated, so WHY do we have violet (purple) in the rainbow?

3140 day(s) ago

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Larry
Visible light makes up only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a broad range of light and energy that surrounds us in the universe. What we see as white light is actually made of smaller components of light such as red, yellow, blue, and so on, each of which has its own frequency, or wavelength. Rainbows are meteorological phenomena in which tiny droplets of water act like prisms as sunlight shines through them at a low angle. As the light from the sun enters a water droplet, its light is first refracted, or bent. After that, the light is reflected off the back of the water droplet and then back out of the other side of the droplet. A droplet of water, like a prism or any other object through which light can pass, has a quality which is known as a refractive index. As the different wavelengths of light that make up white light pass through the prism or water droplet, some each individual wavelength of light is bent at a slightly different angle, producing the pattern of the rainbow which we see. In a rainbow, the colors are arranged in the following order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

One of the biggest sources of confusion that results from observing the way the colors are organized in the rainbow is that the order is counter-intuitive to our basic understanding of color theory from art class. In elementary school art class, we are taught that by combining certain colors, it is possible to create new ones. For example, combining yellow and blue produces green, while mixing red and blue makes purple. In a rainbow, this fact seems to play out as orange is sandwiched between red and yellow and green between blue and yellow. But, how is it possible for blue and red to be at opposite ends of the rainbow, yet produce purple next to blue? Does the rainbow somehow wrap around at the ends beyond our perception? No. The answer is that color theory and the science of rainbows and light spectra are paradoxically unrelated. In truth, the rainbow is just used as something familiar to relate to the color wheel, which serves as the basis for color theory, the science of mixing certain colors to get new ones. In color theory, the red and blue are just brought together in order to create a nicely unified color wheel, when in reality, there are invisible wavelengths past blue and past the red side of the spectrum.

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