HAMILTON, Va. — It's safe to say we have all seen a rainbow before. The bright and colorful band that shows up following rain storms can be stunning. Sky watchers in Hamilton, Virginia, were treated to a more unique rainbow phenomenon on Wednesday evening.
Several viewers sent photos and videos of what looked like a rainbow cloud. What our viewers captured is what is known as cloud iridescence.
Scientists with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explained how the iridescence happens in a blog post.
"It usually happens in altocumulus, cirrocumulus, lenticular and cirrus clouds. Iridescent clouds happen because of diffraction – a phenomenon that occurs when small water droplets or small ice crystals scatter the sun's light," NOAA said.
NOAA also explained why you may not have seen these rainbow clouds before.
"Cloud iridescence is relatively rare. The cloud must be thin and have lots of water droplets or ice crystals of about the same size. When that happens, the sun's rays encounter just a few droplets at at time. For this reason, semi-transparent clouds or clouds that are just forming are the ones most likely to have iridescence," NOAA said.
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