13 Iridescent Clouds That Light up the Sky with Colorful Rainbows

In the late afternoon, on a hot and humid day, you might look up and be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of iridescent clouds that gleam with the colors of the rainbow. The rare phenomenon occurs when sunlight diffracts off of uniformly sized water droplets in the atmosphere, scattering different amounts of sunlight, with different colors being deflected by different amounts. Also known as “fire rainbows” or “rainbow clouds,” the uncommon occurrence is most often observed in altocumulus, cirrocumulus, lenticular clouds, and cirrus clouds.

Although atmospheric phenomena expert Les Cowley says that he usually sees images of rainbow clouds “from Florida, Southeast Asia, equatorial Africa,” cloud iridescence has been documented all over the world. Scroll down to see some of those rare instances of this beautiful natural phenomenon.

Above photo source: Oleg Bartunov via APOD

Photo source: Esther Havens via APOD

Photo source: Dave McGlinchey

Photo source: Eileen

Photo source: Brody J

Photo source: Richard Sneddon

Photo source: August Allen via APOD

Photo source: Brocken Inaglory / Wikipedia

Photo source: Concreteabstractions / Wikipedia

Photo source: Gary

Photo source: George Quiroga / Wikipedia

Photo source: Joseph Brimacombe

Photo source: Pennina Neumann

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