A layer of stratocumulus clouds over the Pacific Ocean, in this image from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired on June 20, 2012, served as the backdrop for this rainbow-like optical phenomenon known as a glory. Glories generally appear as concentric rings of color in front of mist or fog.
They form when water droplets within clouds scatter sunlight back toward a source of illumination (in this case the Sun).
Although glories may look similar to rainbows, the way light is scattered to produce them is different. Rainbows are formed by refraction and reflection; glories are formed by backward diffraction. The most vivid glories form when an observer looks down on thin clouds with droplets that are between 10 and 30 microns in diameter. The brightest and most colorful glories also form when droplets are roughly the same size.
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