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Why do objects have color?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Visible light is a combination of many different frequencies. Each of these frequencies is perceived as a color by our eyes. The reason an object has the color that it does is because the atoms and molecules that the object is made of (or covered in, like paint) happen to vibrate at a particular frequency in response to exposure to energy. When light energy strikes an object, that energy is either absorbed or re-emitted. The light frequencies absorbed is determined by the frequency at which the object's material vibrates. The color of an object is simply the combination of light frequencies that were not absorbed by the object's material.

    Most of us studied light and color properties in school with prisms. These are the visible light waves and are the same ones that create rainbows. It's the water vapor in the air that unexpectedly breaks them apart, much like a prism does, so that we can see the colors along the spectrum.

    Maybe what we love most about rainbows -- aside from the lore about pots of gold and all the romance of songs -- is that they surprise us. It's difficult to predict exactly when you'll see one, other than following a shower or during high humidity. Yet even then, there's no guarantee that you'll step out of your office at the end of a hard day and be treated to a breathtaking double rainbow. To see a rainbow, the sun must be behind you and within 42 degrees or less of the horizon so that the light rays are angled just so. Their view changes for every observer, but usually you see red at the top to match the light frequency spectrum.

    You can predict, however, where you might go to more likely catch a glimpse of a rainbow and when: Australia's Rainbow Coast in the winter. Apparently, the winter is the rainy season for this spot on Australia's southern coast and the sun sits less than 42 degrees above the coast's horizon, especially in winter [source: RainbowCoast.com]. It seems that this Australian coast can easily live up to its name. Aside from its relation to the sun's angle, the area's rain usually comes from the southwest and the sun is on the northern horizon. It's a perfect rainbow recipe.

    More answers from Discovery Channel »



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