Graphics researchers discover the secret behind rainbows

What started as a research project into improving the amount of finite detail that goes into CGI film and video game backgrounds, turned into a discovery about the physics of rainbows and how they are formed.

Computer Scientists at the Jacobs School of Engineering in UC San Diego are to publish their research project 'ACM Transactions in Graphics' this month, where they set out to improve the graphical details in computer simulations of rainbows.  However the project, led by Henrik Wann Jensen (Oscar Winner and graphics specialist of Avatar) stumbled across answering a few physics based questions about how these colourful arcs form.  

“This goes beyond computer graphics,” Jensen commented. “We now have an almost complete picture of how rainbows form.”

This occurred when the researchers began recreating various types of rainbows by simulating light through differing sizes your traditional 'tear drop' water droplets called 'burgeroids' of differing mass, which contradicted traditional scientific thought of all water drops being perfectly spherical on descent.  This would answer questions about different rainbow-related phenomena, such as the 'double rainbow,' as heavier, differently shaped water droplets would refract light in different ways, creating all the different types.

News Release: University of San Diego, Flickr