Sky watchers often report seeing rainbow colors in clouds. There are many different kinds of rainbow features you might see associated with clouds, such as halos and colored arcs and even true rainbows. But – if the rainbow-like colors are randomly distributed, and if the sun is nearby in the sky – what you’re seeing is likely an iridescent cloud.
These sorts of clouds are caused by particularly tiny ice crystals or water droplets in the air. Larger ice crystals produce lunar or solar halos, but tiny ice crystals or water droplets cause light to be diffracted – spread out – creating this rainbow-like effect in the clouds.
The images on this page are mostly via the EarthSky community. Our thanks to all who contributed!
Bottom line: You might someday see an iridescent cloud. These clouds have rainbow-like colors. They’re caused by very tiny ice crystals or water droplets in the air, which cause light to be diffracted (spread out).
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.