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I discovered this "rainbow" over the Yellowstone River in Google Maps:

enter image description here View the site in Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/y6xETmY859M2

You can see a distinct red, yellow, and blue streak hovering over this part of the river, just east of Lower Falls. Viewing the site in Google Earth Pro, it appears the image was taken in September 2015 (from a SPOT satellite I think? But I'm not certain).

My question is, what is it?

I know these colors are not differences in geology because (a) you don't see discoloration in images from earlier years and (b) the discoloration is visible across the river itself. First thing that came to mind was that the satellite captured an actual rainbow in the mist of the falls, but I don't think that's physically possible.

The closest I've come to describing it is resembling some type of "lens flare" effect. What attribute of the satellite or camera might cause this to appear? Wouldn't we expect Google's image processing algorithms to have corrected it?

  • First thing that came to mind was that the satellite captured an actual rainbow in the mist of the falls, but I don't think that's physically possible. - why not? Not that I think that's what it is (I don't), I'm just interested in the reasoning behind your comment that it's not possible. – Midavalo Apr 14 '17 at 22:37
  • I have seen rainbows in other imagery from waterfalls. I have also seen rainbows and other imagery anomalies captured on mountain peaks covered in snow when the wind was blowing, so I would not discount the possibility of a rainbow being captured in that image. – jbgramm Apr 14 '17 at 22:45
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    @Midavalo, I couldn't make sense of what kind of geometry would be required in the sun + satellite + water vapor system to make a rainbow visible--the satellite being above the clouds is what's throwing me. BUT (upon further research) maybe it's not a rainbow, but it could be a "glory!" theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/… – neirbom9 Apr 14 '17 at 22:59
  • @jbgramm, you're referring to satellite imagery in which you've seen these features? – neirbom9 Apr 14 '17 at 23:15
  • Yes, but I have also seen them in non-satellite acquired aerial imagery. They are not common. If I can find them, I will post some examples of spin drift (snow, or diamond dust rainbows, and waterfall rainbows) I never paid too much attention to them until this thread, it was just a passing "Oh, look! A rainbow!" then I went about my business. – jbgramm Apr 15 '17 at 0:40

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