For the musician, see White Rainbow.
Photograph of a spray moonbow (lunar rainbow)

A moonbow (also known as a lunar rainbow, white rainbow, lunar bow or space rainbow) is a rainbow produced by light reflected off the surface of the moon rather than from direct sunlight. Moonbows are relatively faint, due to the smaller amount of light reflected from the surface of the moon. They are always in the opposite part of the sky from the moon.

It is difficult for the human eye to discern colors in a moonbow because the light is usually too faint to excite the cone color receptors in human eyes. As a result, they often appear to be white.[1] However, the colors in a moonbow do appear in long exposure photographs.


True moonbows

A true moonbow is lit from the Moon itself. A colored rainbow when the sun is setting or when it is darker out is not a moonbow because it is still produced by sunlight. Moonbows have been mentioned at least since Aristotle, in his Meteorology, circa 350 BC, and in 1847; [2], and the term moonbow was used by Nick Whelan who sighted one of the first documented moonbows in Eastern Utah[citation needed].

Faux moonbows

A colored circle around the moon is not a moonbow—it is usually a 22° halo produced by refraction through hexagonal ice crystals in cirrus cloud. Colored rings close to the moon are a corona, a diffraction phenomenon produced by very small water droplets or ice crystals in clouds.


Moonbows are most easily viewed when the moon is near to full (when it is brightest). For true moonbows, other than those produced by waterfalls or sprays, the moon must be low in the sky (less than 42 degrees and preferably lower) and the sky must be dark. And of course there must be rain falling opposite the moon. This combination of requirements makes moonbows much more rare than rainbows produced by the sun.

Notable spray moonbow locations

Spray moonbow at the Lower Yosemite Fall

Few places in the world frequently feature this phenomenon. Several waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. Cumberland Falls,[3] near Corbin, Kentucky, U.S.A. and Victoria Falls[4] on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe are widely known for moonbow occurrence. Also Waimea on Hawaii's Kauai Island. A moonbow sighting occurred on July 26, 2010 at Kalapana on the island of Hawaii (the Big island), seen from near the active lava flow.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Walklet, Keith S. (2006). "Lunar Rainbows - When to View and How to Photograph a "Moonbow"". The Ansel Adams Gallery. Archived from the original on 2007-06-24. Retrieved 2007-07-09. 
  2. ^ "The Eclectic magazine of foreign ... - Google Books". Retrieved 2011-06-09. 
  3. ^ Bailey, Bill (1995). "Cumberland Falls State Resort Park". Kentucky State Parks. Saginaw, Michigan: Glovebox Guidebooks of America. ISBN 1881139131. 
  4. ^ Manning, Russ. The Historic Cumberland Plateau: An Explorer's Guide. pp. 106. ISBN 978-1572330443. Retrieved 2011-10-28. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • moonbow — /moohn boh /, n. a rainbow caused by the refraction and reflection of light from the moon. Also called lunar rainbow. [1890 95; MOON + (RAIN)BOW] * * * …   Universalium

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