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A rare moonbow in Northumberland - what are they and how do you spot them? Moonbows or night-time rainbows are beautiful and this guide is all you need to know about them; Moonbows or night-time rainbows are beautiful and this guide is all you need to know about them.

Byline: Lisa Hutchinson

As the clocks go back at the weekend and winter sets in, strange phenomenons may be spotted in the North East skies.

It is this time of year when rare moonbows or night-time rainbows could appear when the sky is dark, the moon is full and rain is prevalent.

We've all seen a beautiful rainbow when the sun comes out after the rain during the day. But how many of us has witnessed one at night?

Earlier this month a spectacular rare moonbow was photographed over.

However, if you haven't seen one yet then don't feel in the dark as many professional astronomers and meteorologists haven't personally seen one either.

'Lunar rainbows' or 'moonbows' are produced very much in the same way as their colourful sisters.

Here is your moonbow guide.

Just like the rays of the sun can create a rainbow during the day, reflected light from the moon can create a moonbow if the conditions are just right. Really!

As the sunlight shines through the water droplets still floating in the air after rain, the droplets act like prisms, scattering the sunlight in a visible spectrum we see as the rainbow.

The moonbow is no different with the exception that the light source is replaced by the moon itself. However, to get a lunar version there needs to be other ingredients for one to occur. Wow!

Although moonbows can be seen anytime, the best examples are witnessed when the moon phase is bright. This means that the period around full moon and the two days before and after when the gibbous phase is particularly brilliant are the favoured hunting window periods to catch them. The next full moon is November 14.

A dazzling moon in the sky on its own will not produce a bow without water droplets in the atmosphere, so rain is extremely important.

One of the main reasons moonbows are so rare is that moonlight isn't very bright. To see a moonbow, a bright full moon is usually necessary. You also need all the other conditions for a moonbow to happen.

The sky must be very dark and the moon must be very low in the sky. Finally, a source of water droplets, such as rain or the mist from a waterfall, must be present in the opposite direction of the moon. Given all of these necessary conditions, it's no surprise that moonbows aren't very common.

If the moon is greater than 42 degrees (84 apparent moon diameters) above the horizon then no bow can form so a lower moon altitude is best. A low moon elevation will generate a large bow, and high moon elevation a small bow. Brilliant!

These bows are often described as ghostly or eerie due to their 'out of place' appearance at night. More often than not a moonbow may look grey or white in colour when produced by feeble moonlight but under the correct conditions a brighter example can look breathtaking.

A moonbow often appears in an icy white as it's colours aren't visible to the naked eye, but show up on film and digital exposures - so make sure you take your camera as they look stunning when captured.

Moonbows are mostly reported in places such as the Scottish Highlands and Hawaiian Islands. However, due to our wet climate the UK has now been proudly located on the map as a prime location for regular moonbow formations. Earlier this month Ian Glendinning captured the stunning image of a moonbow in the night sky above a field in the Coquet Valley in Northumberland. Well done Ian!

Moonbows are extremely rare, but once seen are never forgotten. The magnificent sighting may only last for seconds to minutes but once you've seen it, the sighting is ever-lasting.

Although moonbows are rare, they do tend to happen more frequently in certain locations. These locations usually have waterfalls that generate layers of mist in the air. The moonbows created near waterfalls are often called spray moonbows. If you hope to get a glimpse of a spray moonbow, some of the best locations include Yosemite National Park in California, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Kentucky, Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa, Waimea in Hawaii, and Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.

Explore the Northumberland Coast


Credit: Ian Glendinning

A moonbow visible in the night sky above a field in the Coquet Valley
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Date:Oct 27, 2016
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