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Sky-Watchers Snap Rare 'Fire Rainbow' In South Carolina: How They Form

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A beautiful "Fire Rainbow" struck the skies of South Carolina Sunday afternoon, Aug.16. Despite its name, the unusual occurrence isn't related to recent wildfires; instead, it's produced by a unique alignment of forces in the atmosphere.

It occurs when the sun's rays hit ice crystals in cirrus clouds at the exact angle. It only transpires when the sun is high in the sky at approximately 58 degrees above the horizon. Fire rainbows are one of the numerous optical phenomena that occur when the sunlight relates with many types of clouds, particularly those in the uppermost level of the atmosphere, which are mostly made of ice crystals. This occurence showcases one of nature's beauty and color.

Numerous folks fortunate enough to marvel at the colorful rainbow can't stop themselves from taking pictures and posting them on Instagram and Twitter. 

"I was on the beach with my children and two friends and one of my daughter's friends said, Look, Look, Look!' and she pointed it out and I saw it," I immediately grabbed my cell phone. said Carole Rich-Williams of Charlotte, North Carolina.

She recalled the fire rainbow appearing overhead around 2:40 p.m. at the Isle of Palms South Carolina, an island just outside of Charleston.

Other fortunate people who saw it as 'wings of an angel', thus describing how beautiful and marvelous this phenomenon is.

So how rare is it seen? It depends on the place and latitude of the spectator. In the United States it is a relatively common, seen several times every summer. However, it is infrequent in Northern Europe for several reasons, one is always being cloudy at these areas in the world since this phenomenon requires a very high light source in the sky at an elevation of 58° or greater. For example, in London, England the sun only reaches 58° for 140 hours between the months of May and July.

In relation, there is a similar phenomenon called 'cloud iridescence' which is confused with fire rainbow. This also causes the clouds to appear multi-colored. The difference is cloud iridescence comes from the diffraction of liquid water droplets or ice crystals rather than refraction and fire rainbows color brand runs horizontally with the color red on top unlike iridescence they are much random in sequence and shape which roughly follows the cloud that causes it.

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