Moonbow, A Rare Phenomenon: Lunar Rainbow Facts Revealed!

Joan Agie
Oct 31, 2023 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Dec 07, 2021
The main difference between a moonbow and a rainbow is the source of light and the way in which it is refracted and reflected.

Not all rainbows are the same.

It is easy to get confused between a rainbow and a moonbow but these two phenomena are very different and happen at different times in a day. A rainbow takes place during the day but a moonbow takes place in the night sky.

Moonbows, as the name goes, are created from moonlight!

The moonbow is an incredibly rare optical phenomenon that occurs when the moon's light is refracted through the water droplets present in the air.

Also called lunar rainbows or a white rainbow for only taking place at night in perfect conditions, this event is not as clear and vivid as a rainbow because the amount of light from the most glorious full moon is much less than the light from the sun!

The first sighting or mention of a moonbow was made all the way back in 350 BC by the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle.

The chances of seeing a moonbow are less than 10% as compared to rainbows because the right conditions need to exist for them to take place in the night sky. Just like how rainbows work during the day, moonbows need enough or sufficient light reflected and refracted at a specific angle by the water droplets in the air.

The moon must be in its brightest phase, that is, it should be a full moon.

The water droplets present in the air must be in the opposite direction of the moon's position.

It must also be a very dark and clear sky with no artificial light, very minimal light pollution and there shouldn't be many clouds either. They also differ slightly in appearance from rainbows.

A moonbow appears in the form of white light to the naked human eye whereas with rainbows you can see seven colors in the color spectrum clearly.

Yet, taking a photograph of a moonbow will show that the colors are all there.

Moonbows occur in only a few parts of the world frequently. These locations tend to be around waterfalls that form layers of mist in the air.

One such location is the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and unlike other Kentucky State Parks, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park allows visitors and hikers on a 24-hour basis to come and catch the spectacular view of a moonbow taking place in the clear night sky.

Brett Smitley, a naturalist at this park says that 'the right amount of mist is key'! Another location where this natural phenomenon occurs is in Victoria Falls which is on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border and is such an impressive sight that this place has tons of visitors during the early parts of the year.

People have also been able to witness moonbows in Waimea Canyon State Park, Hawaii.

On the big island of Hawaii with the moon rising on the East horizon during light rain and at Yosemite Falls which is in California, there have been many sightings of double moonbows too due to the occurrence of a thunderous amount of mist! The moonbows that are created near the waterfalls are called spray moonbows.

Believe it or not, moonbows and rainbows are a symbol of hope!

If you enjoy this article on moonbow, be sure to check out our other articles on the color of planet Mercury and amazing facts about moth dust that you are sure to love!

Explain The Term Moonbow And How It Is Formed

Just like how rainbows occur in the daytime and need sunlight, moonbows occur at night and require a good amount of moonlight. A moonbow, lunar rainbow, or white rainbow is a phenomenon that takes place at night when light from the moon reflects and refracts through the falling water droplets in the atmosphere or air.

The environment of droplets in the air is created when it rains or in other situations where waterfalls create layers of mist.

When the light passes through the water droplets, it tends to bend and reflect off the back of the droplet, and then exits the droplets once the light bends through a second time.

This final bending of light causes it split into the seven colors that we're familiar with when it comes to rainbows which are violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. However, with respect to moonbows, they only appear white to the human eye.

All seven colors are present but it is just that at night they can be really faint and dim.

You can still capture the colorful spectrum of colors with long exposure photographs though.

To capture this breathtaking spectacle or to even get a good view of the moonbow, the moon must be as bright as possible which is a full moon and the sky must be clear, dark, and without any clouds.

Areas or locations with a waterfall also create moonbows as the waterfall creates a misty atmosphere where tiny droplets of water are sprayed into the air.

Some places with a frequently visible moonbow are Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Kentucky, Waimea Canyon State Park in Hawaii, and the Yosemite falls in California.

A moonbow that is formed near a waterfall is often referred to as a spray moonbow!

Causes Of A Moonbow

Just like rainbows produced in the daytime with the light from the sun, moonbows or lunar rainbows appear at night when the sky is clear from clouds and the moon is shining brightly. They are a rare phenomenon that requires a number of weather conditions to be just right for them to take place properly.

The reason for a moonbow being so rare is because moonlight is often not as bright and vibrant as light from the sun.

This is also why moonbows are visible to the naked eye as white.

The causes or reasons for the formation of a moonbow is because the light of the moon reflects and refracts the tiny droplets of water in the air. The tiny droplets must be in the direction opposite the moon.

Moonbow Visibility From Texas

The moonbow is a phenomenon that can't just be seen from any and every place.

Some folks almost consider it to be a world wonder because all over the world, the phenomenon of the moonbow takes place in only a few locations. These locations are Victoria Falls on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Kentucky, Waimea Canyon State Park in Hawaii, and Yosemite falls in California.

People make special travel plans to come and view this amazing spectacle and if they are lucky, they get the chance to see an even more rare phenomenon called the 'double moonbow'.

When will there be a moonbow at Cumberland Falls?

In order to see the breathtaking moonbow at the Cumberland falls in Kentucky, it is best to go when there is lots of water flowing in the falls and when the occurrence of a full moon is close.

Make sure that the sky at night is also clear with no clouds and minimal light so that you can see the moonbow as clearly as possible.

Getting these weather conditions to align correctly can be tricky but it is usually not an issue at these falls as these conditions happen on a regular basis.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for facts about the moonbow, a rare phenomenon then why not take a look at if wolf spiders are poisonous or facts about animals with shells.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

Joan Agie picture

Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

Read full bio >