Abstract

The rainbow has had an important role in religion, art, and science. Recently, artists have attempted to create indoor rainbow displays as interactive exhibitions of art, but based, nonetheless, on the principles of the scattering behavior of raindrops and the experience of experiment. Motivated by recently viewing the Beauty, 1993, installation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), we describe here a modeling program to explain the diversity of rainbow phenomena one can see visually in the gallery. The most significant impression gleaned in the museum is the acute spatial dependence of rainbow form on the viewing position in the presence of a local divergent light source (i.e., a floodlamp), in stark contrast to the unchangeable natural rainbow produced by an unimaginably distant Sun. This represents a case of the local (divergent) versus solar (parallel) light ray source distinction in atmospheric optical displays, which is one of a handful of anthropogenic versus natural situations responsible for optics displays that have been so far described. Through geometrical optics and Airy’s theory simulations we show a rich relationship between the locally produced rainbow phenomena and the chamber equipment geometry and viewing position.

© 2008 Optical Society of America

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