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The 360-degree Rainbow

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 20:18 GMT le 14 avril 2005

Most people don't realize it, but a rainbow is actually a full circle. You usually can't see the full circle, since half of the rainbow lies beneath the horizon, where it is not raining. After all, there is no weather underground. However, if one is in an airplane or overlooking a waterfall, the 360-degree rainbow can be seen. I know--I have seen them twice from research airplanes that were flying through rain showers. Check out the 360-degree rainbow image at the bottom. Note that there is a separate optical phenomena, called a glory (caused by diffraction), surrounding the shadow of the airplane. Unfortunately, I only had a 23mm wide angle lens, and could not capture the entire 360-degree rainbow. To my knowledge, no one has captured a photograph of a full NATURAL 360-degree rainbow. You can easily photograph one using a sprinkler, as this photographer has done here.

I challenge all you wunderphotographers to capture a 360-degree rainbow image in rain or waterfall mist. First photographer to post such a natural 360-degree rainbow image wins a free 2-year wunderground.com membership!

Update: In 2013, a photographer on a helicopter in Australia captured a beautiful picture of a 360-degree rainbow, posted at NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day website.

Jeff Masters

360-degree rainbow (JeffMasters)
A rainbow is not a half-circle, but a full circle, as this photo taken from NOAA's P-3 Orion weather reseach aircraft demonstrates. A rain shower beneath the aircraft allowed me to see the entire circle of the rainbow, although the 23-mm wide angle lens was not quite wide enough to capture the entire circle.
360-degree rainbow

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51. Patrap
04:12 GMT le 23 novembre 2015
Dr. Masters first blog entry in 2005 was on the 360 degree rainbow.
Member Since: 3 juillet 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137179
50. Patrap
04:16 GMT le 23 novembre 2015
Member Since: 3 juillet 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137179
48. vidarito
15:56 GMT le 25 novembre 2014
Very interesting on rainbow science. Thanks.
Member Since: 26 octobre 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
46. winter123
19:27 GMT le 10 mai 2014
On mobile and got here by mistake. So glad I did! I had no idea a full circle rainbow could be viewed.
Member Since: 29 juillet 2006 Posts: 28 Comments: 1833
44. happykaren
21:27 GMT le 17 Mars 2014
I like how it is a circle rainbow...great capture

Printing Services
Member Since: 15 Mars 2014 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
43. leonrosk
18:20 GMT le 12 septembre 2013
As a young merchant seaman many years ago, caught in a sudden tropical downpour in bright sunshine, I'd climbed the ladder to the next deck and looking behind me saw a double rainbow making a complete circle.

It was in the form of a slanted disc with the bottom of the disc at my feet and the top above the horizon (seemingly a long way away).

I realised that the angle of the disc was in a line with the sun behind me passing through my head to the illusion in front of me.

Since that time I know that I have to look for the rainbow with the sun behind me, and that latitude, and the height of the sun above the horizon, determines how high the top of the rainbow appears to be in the sky.
Member Since: 28 août 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
42. snotly
01:11 GMT le 10 septembre 2013
No weather under ground, then how come some caves here in MO are always 58 F and 100% humidity?
Member Since: 27 août 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 689
41. Dakster
13:46 GMT le 09 septembre 2013
So who won the photo of a 360 degree rainbow?
Member Since: 10 Mars 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 12170
39. islander101010
23:11 GMT le 25 août 2013
spreading like poison ivey..favorable conditions throughout the basin
Member Since: 11 septembre 2010 Posts: 2 Comments: 6135
38. Kumo
22:22 GMT le 25 août 2013
You should totally get this guy to do commentary on a 360-degree rainbow.
Member Since: 3 août 2012 Posts: 15 Comments: 148
34. wxchaser97
18:30 GMT le 23 novembre 2012
I had to see where it all started.

wxchaser97 was and is here...
Member Since: 16 Mars 2012 Posts: 127 Comments: 7984
33. MTWX
19:55 GMT le 14 septembre 2012
Was reading back through the old Katrina Blogs, and figured I'd stop in to see where it all began....

MTWX was here...
Member Since: 20 juillet 2009 Posts: 23 Comments: 1394
32. TomTaylor
07:13 GMT le 01 septembre 2012
Can we make this the new hangout spot?
Member Since: 24 août 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4358
31. MAweatherboy1
01:46 GMT le 11 août 2012
Wow, the first entry... 31 comments in 7 years.
Member Since: 11 février 2012 Posts: 89 Comments: 8533
30. TropicalAnalystwx13
01:20 GMT le 11 août 2012
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Oh this blog has no idea what it's in for..

Yeah...you've got that right, lol.
Member Since: 6 juillet 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 34840
29. TomTaylor
07:29 GMT le 16 juillet 2012
TomTaylor was here
Member Since: 24 août 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4358
28. WxGeekVA
03:19 GMT le 17 mai 2012
If only one knew where this blog would be now.... Thanks for the original entry Dr. M.
Member Since: 3 septembre 2011 Posts: 13 Comments: 3486
27. SomeChaz
01:32 GMT le 17 février 2010
A different but also exciting phenomena is the "sundog"; in which rays refract through ice crystals. The differing index of refraction of solid water leads to a smaller radius rainbow even without clouds or rain present. Since the radius is tighter, one can often see the full circle. I saw one three days ago in Madison, WI, but I didn't have my camera. Here's an example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-473524/Dazzling-image-circle-rainbow.html
26. CybrTeddy
01:42 GMT le 30 juin 2009
Oh this blog has no idea what it's in for..
Member Since: 8 juillet 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 25342
25. cycloone
20:48 GMT le 22 octobre 2008
Member Since: 2 Mars 2003 Posts: 65 Comments: 1009
20:29 GMT le 29 juillet 2008
Member Since: 15 juillet 2006 Posts: 195 Comments: 61068
23. OneDay
17:56 GMT le 01 août 2006
Just thought I'd drop a message on the "original."

Too cool.
Member Since: 13 juillet 2005 Posts: 35 Comments: 932
22. turtlehurricane
04:55 GMT le 02 juillet 2006
Flash to the past. Back to the future.
Member Since: 22 juillet 2005 Posts: 227 Comments: 469
21. Alec
04:38 GMT le 22 juin 2006
hey im here!!!!!!!cooooooooool!!!!!!!!
20. atmosweather
04:34 GMT le 22 juin 2006
Member Since: 24 septembre 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
19. Levi32
04:33 GMT le 22 juin 2006
Welcom to WU Dr. Master's! ROFL!!!
Member Since: 24 novembre 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26780
17. shaviator
1:46 PM GMT on April 25, 2005
I have seen the "glory" rainbow many times from my plane but have also heard it called "the aviator's halo".
16. Groundrush
4:30 PM GMT on April 23, 2005
I have seen these before, when I'm skydiving and I steer my parachute into a cloud. I wish I would have had a camera with me!
Member Since: 18 février 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 1
15. Lemurian
8:09 PM PDT on April 22, 2005
Jeff says "After all, there is no weather underground." If this is true, then where are we??? LOL
Member Since: 20 août 2004 Posts: 20 Comments: 0
11:10 PM GMT on April 22, 2005
13. stuckindeleware
12:40 PM GMT on April 22, 2005
If a rainbow is a full circle...then WHERE'S THE POT OF GOLD???? I feel cheated.
Member Since: 22 avril 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
12. WunderYakuza (Admin)
4:57 PM PDT on April 21, 2005
You can also create a link to an image by selecting the text you wish to link and clicking the link button above the comment text box. Like so.
9. phoebe5555
10:24 PM GMT on April 21, 2005
I wondered if you saw this photo from Albania. It struck me and then I read your blog and it reminded me of this photo.
This is the URL.
Member Since: 17 avril 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
8. WMMcLaughlin
8:59 PM GMT on April 21, 2005
Never seen a 360, but I have seen a double, at least once, in Scotland I think. Have seen glories as an airline passenger.

But, courtesy of Uncle Sam's Great Grey Ocean Liners, I have also seen the Green Flash of the Tropics and The Corposant once each. Was watching for the Green Flash, but the Corposant was a surprise, and a year and an ocean before seeing the Green Flash.
7. Dr. Jeff Masters , Director of Meteorology (Admin)
2:49 PM EDT on April 21, 2005
The 360 rainbow that circles the shadow of the airplane that ruffair refers to is a separate optical phenomena, called a glory, and is not a true rainbow. A glory is an optical diffraction effect consisting of concentric rings of color centered about the shadow of an observer's head, located on a cloud of water drops. You can see a glory surrounding the shadow of the airplane in my 360-degree rainbow photo. Also, check out this glory photo, taken from a mountaintop.
4. ruffair
3:39 PM GMT on April 21, 2005
I've seen the 360 rainbows many times. I always have a window seat in the front of the jet. One of the best is desending into cloud tops with the sun directly behind... in the water vapor that is the cloud top, you get a 360 rainbow that circles the shadow of the airplane... never have got the camara out in time...
Member Since: 5 novembre 2003 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
3. geckotoes
10:49 AM GMT on April 21, 2005
Thanks! I've seen this from an airplane, too, but was beginning to doubt my memory because no one I know has seen such a thing. This is gorgeous!
2. rmh9903
5:33 AM GMT on April 21, 2005
A rainbow is a true sight of beauty. Not only that but the have a sense of peace about them. Too bad they seem so limited in time.

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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