Sunset Rainbow

Westward view, 06/28/2010. This sunset was casting its light upon the rainbow in the opposite sky. Central Virginia has gotten its fair share of heavy storms already this year, as the weather continues to be diverse and extreme. One wonderful benefit of this atmospheric diversity is that the atmosphere has been giving us frequent light shows. Storm skies have approached metallic green, and the post-storm sunsets have been brilliant.A sunset is a mesmerizing visual attraction, both relaxing and liberating. In these brief inspiring moments, we are locked westward. This summer, while you enjoy these momentary magical moments looking westward, consider what might be at your back. The sunset rainbow, short lived and grand, may be watching the sunset with you! Though rare, when it is there it will be very high in the East…as high as a rainbow can be, in fact.Partial view of a sunset rainbow, looking East /Southeast on Hinton Ave. in Charlottesville, VA., 06/28/2010. When the sun is high in the sky, it produces no rainbow in the opposite sky…but if it is lower than 42 degrees above the horizon, the stage is set. Water is a key ingredient, of course (light and your relative position being the others). So, in that new light during or following rain, or across an unusually misty or foggy view, the rainbow may be had.The magnificence of the Sunset Rainbow is pushed to the max by the contrast between an advancing night sky and brilliant sunset colors. The low position of the sun sends its light on a long path through the earth’s atmosphere, producing dazzling reds, pinks, golds and purples. The low sun also motivates the rainbow to climb high above the east horizon…it is the widest crescent visible from land…in areas with a low horizon it may also approach a full half-circle (looking east from the eastern Blue Ridge escarpment, for example).As with all things dazzling, it is easy to view them with a certain amount of tunnel vision…awe stricken and hypnotized by beauty. So take care, remain aware, and in your observations use all your senses with focused intent and variety. Look in places taken for granted, despite the enthralling subject of the moment…behind you, beneath your feet. When looking up, consider down. When viewing day, ponder night. When observing the west sky, consider how it may be casting itself upon the east. The synthesis there may be something to behold!