Cloud iridescence

Odd bits of rainbow in the sky

A few days ago we were driving home from the east which meant that as it was evening, we were heading into the sunshine. Up in the sky there were two blobs of colour in the clouds on each side of the sun – not that close to it but seemingly equidistant from it.

Eventually, after the best had faded rather, I was able to stop and get a photo of one of them.


I recall seeing something similar before – also when driving only that time on the M5 motorway with no chance of stopping.

So what, I wondered, caused these bits of colour. If we believe Wikipedia then this is cloud iridescence.

Apparently tiny ice crystals or water droplets cause this effect. It is noticeable in thin clouds and the droplets, apparently, diffract the light – separating it into colours. This is something similar to what you see with a thin film of oil on a puddle of water.

But whatever the science, it looks lovely and, apparently, is not a common sight.


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