Rainbow links

Cambridge Science Universe (D. Jollands, ed) Vol 3: Sight, Light and Colour (CUP 1984), pp 18-19
An outstandingly well-presented explanation, including good photographs and diagrams; aimed primarily at younger readers. (Note, however, that the angle of the secondary bow is incorrectly given as 52-54.5, rather than 50-53.)

[US edition: Science Universe Series (Arco Publishing Inc. 1984) ISBN 0-668-06177-4]

Dawkins, R. Unweaving the Rainbow (Allen Lane/Penguin 1998), pp 44-49
Contains a characteristically engaging and lucid description of most aspects of the phenomenon. Mentions, but does not explain, the "rainbow angle" of 42, which determines where the rainbow is seen.

Lynds, Beverly T. About Rainbows
An excellent presentation, notable for its clarity and its detailed discussion of Descartes' pioneering analysis in the 17th century. Contains a comprehensive list of references and on-line links (which are therefore not repeated here, except for Wicklin & Edelman).

Nave, Carl R. (Rod), Primary and Secondary Rainbows
Forms part of the clear and informative Hyperphysics website. Includes some attractive colour photos, labelling the various features of rainbows.

Wicklin, F.J. and Edelman, P. Circles of Light: The Mathematics of Rainbows
An accessible mathematical treatment of the underlying physics. Presupposes a grasp of basic calculus for:
  • the derivation of Snell's law of refraction from Fermat's minimum-time principle
  • the determination of the minimum angle of deflection (the "rainbow angle")
Contains a table of refractive indices. Includes an interactive model (similar to our Excel diagrams) that can be run on-line.


If you find this model useful, you may also like to look at our MS-Excel version (and extension) of Dawkins' model of natural selection.

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