They do however look like rainbows, but just don’t have such an exciting name – they are known as circumhorizontal arcs.
Technically these fire rainbows are neither rainbow, nor have anything to do with fire.
But they are extremely impressive to look at, and have been popping up on the internet of late.
They’re pretty rare though and the chances of seeing one in real life will most likely depend on your geographical location.
For example, there is at least a 10 times higher chance you’ll see a fire rainbow in Los Angeles compared to London.
In fact there are only 140 hours in London each year when the Sun is high enough (between mid May and late July) for the phenomenon to take place.
Contrast that with Los Angeles where the Sun is higher than 58 degrees for 670 hours between late March and late September.
Fire rainbows only occur at certain latitudes
It’s also very unlikely you’ll see any fire rainbows if you are located north of 55°N, or south of 55°S.
Several conditions need to be met for them to occur. One is that the Sun has risen at least 58° in the sky.
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Cirrus clouds; those thin, wispy clouds which occur at higher altitudes, are another vital ingredient. (Although a hazy sky can also be effective).
Because they occur at high altitudes, the cool temperature where Cirrus clouds exist means that that they are actually comprised of hexagonal plate-shaped ice crystals.
These crystals act as prisms which create the stunning rainbow-like effect.
And it’s not only circumhorizontal arcs which can be formed. Other refractive shapes such as infralateral arcs, and circumzenithal arcs can also display rainbow colors.
Image credit 1: AmyM Howard
credit 2: Schristia
credit 3: cpo57