Surprise office rainbow

By Phil Plait | April 9, 2012 11:30 am

In somewhat cheerier news…

The other day I was sitting at my desk (like I do all day, every day) and took a swig of water from a bottle… and got a surprise.

It’s hard for me to express just how vivid these colors were. Here’s a picture I took:

Even this doesn’t really show it as vivacious and deeply hued as it appeared. And after all this happened that day I decided to leave the award up on my the window shelf; now every time the Sun sets I get a brilliant display of basic colors that crawls along my floor and then up the wall over the course of an hour or so. It lifts my spirits considerably every time.

Surprise science — and beauty — is maybe my favorite kind.

[Note: After I drafted this post but before I put it up, ESPOD put up a nice picture of a kitchen spectrum. Pretty!]

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Comments (21)

  1. WHAT DOES IT MEAN!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!


  2. hoot56

    Oh my God, double rainbow, double rainbow, oh man, oh my God, it’s incredible, double rainbow….

  3. No, it’s all a conspiracy! This nice lady explained it all to me.

  4. Christine P.

    That was pretty cool! I love how in the minute it took you to find your camera, the cat had stolen your office chair. They love warm cushions. :)

  5. Crux Australis

    Oh man, wots dey puttin in ur waters?!?!?!

    I haven’t seen that video for a while. It always generated a laugh in my high school physics class.

  6. Grand Lunar

    Three pieces of awesome here!

    One, the spectrum on your wall (obviously!).

    Two, the kitty (is that a Maine Coon cat?).

    And three, seeing that “Bad Universe” won an award!

    Now I’m inspired to search for a store that sells prisms.

  7. Kamptroll

    If you set a blank CD on your sunny window sill you will also get a visible spectrum on the ceiling. The CD acts as a diffraction grating (more science!!!). A used CD won’t work as well, and neither do “blue” ones.

    Try it, then explain to your friends interference pattrns etc. :]

  8. Chris

    If youtube existed in Issac Newton’s day.

    And also you should add that the light bends by different amounts because the velocity of light is wavelength dependent when it’s traveling through a medium.

  9. Chris A.

    Reason number 53 why science is better than pseudoscience:

    Put your angular crystal award you got for being a good purveyor of science-y goodness in a window and you get pretty rainbows.

    Put your crystal ball in a window and start a house fire:

  10. Melissa

    Phil has a green room because he’s perpetually about to be on TV.

  11. @Elwood. wow….. just wow…..

  12. Colors are science. Riiiight. Next you’ll try to tell us they evolved.

  13. Giordano Bruno

    LIAR! We all know that rainbows are caused by heavy metals secretly being added to our water supply as this genius shows clear proof of!:

  14. Wonder if Newton originally got his clues on the prism effect from such random glass refractions?

  15. @ ^ forrest noble : Yup. That certainly wouldn’t surprise me.


    Ahh, rainbows being natural spectroscopes / spectrographs – awesome! Cheers Bad Astronomer. ÔĽŅ :-)

    If my little dog (Jack Russell x Fox Terrier) was there he’d be chasing that light patch and barking at it – loves chasing torchlight, reflections, shadows.


    @1. Larian LeQuella : “WHAT DOES IT MEAN!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”

    It means a beautiful demonstration of some of the principles of the science of optics, very Newtonian, pretty old but still really pyschedelic! Trippy, eh? 8)

    It also means that glass is pretty pure and aligned nicely for creating that prismatic effect although it does produce a fair bit of chromatic aberration! ūüėČ

    (Wikipage linked to my name here.)

  16. A neat trick to get more human color out of a photo is to bump the Saturation up 30, an Hue back -8 an darken by -3 in just about any photo process program. Your rainbow sharpens to the crystel edges an your Green walls…well no comment…heh


  17. jeff

    very nice

    I also love these spontaneous displays of sunlight ; if you pay attention to the sun in your house on a regular basis, it’ll keep surprising you by the variety due to time of day, time of year, cloud conditions, and like Phil’s award. Great.

    In my classroom, for years, I’ve kicked the kids in the butt if they close the blinds and turn on artificial lights. The only time I allow them to do that is during test days. I use sunlight only.

  18. icewings

    By coincidence, the Easter Bunny brought my 2-year-old son a prism (yeah, his parents are geeks). He is on the lookout for the sun to come out from behind the clouds all day long. When it does he rushes to the window, grabs the prism, and delights at making rainbows and even double rainbows on the walls and ceiling.

    Yesterday we got the prism to make a Saturn-like shape on the wall – just white light, no rainbow colors, but a super-bright circle with lines coming from either side of it. Looked like Saturn with the rings edge-on. What the heck was going on there? Is there something in the air, or in our water?????? Just here in Montana?????

  19. Sean

    Saw a nice sun dog on my ride home from work yesterday in Chicago. High whispy ice crystals in the sky.

    It changed into a partial circum-helial arc about 4 degrees long and faded as the sun set.

    Very pretty.

    Thanks for the article!

  20. Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky

    Put your glasses in front of it and see if you can see the Fraunhofer lines. The F line of hydrogen beta in the Balmer series at the border between blue and green should at least be visible.

  21. kennypo65

    No offense intended brother, but that is one ugly color on those walls. How do you get any work done?


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