It is stated that it is included in his book Discourse on the Method. But I cannot even find the keyword 'rainbow' in this book.

so where is it?


Here is a link to the original French version, De l'arc-en-ciel.


Descartes Discourse on the Method was published with three additional essays: Dioptrics, Meteorology, Geometry.

It is difficult to find a PDF of the original meteorology essay complete with its many hand-drawn images, but there are a number of summaries supplementing the main body of Discourse. For example, see page 61/161 from "rlwclarke.net".

The UCAR Centre for Science Education includes the following details and image:

Descarte describes how he held up a large sphere in the sunlight and looked at the sunlight reflected in it. He wrote "I found that if the sunlight came, for example, from the part of the sky which is marked AFZ and my eye was at the point E, when I put the globe in position BCD, its part D appeared all red, and much more brilliant than the rest of it; and that whether I approached it or receded from it, or put it on my right or my left, or even turned it round about my head, provided that the line DE always made an angle of about forty-two degrees with the line EM, which we are to think of as drawn from the center of the sun to the eye, the part D appeared always similarly red; but that as soon as I made this angle DEM even a little larger, the red color disappeared; and if I made the angle a little smaller, the color did not disappear all at once, but divided itself first as if into two parts, less brilliant, and in which I could see yellow, blue, and other colors ... When I examined more particularly, in the globe BCD, what it was which made the part D appear red, I found that it was the rays of the sun which, coming from A to B, bend on entering the water at the point B, and to pass to C, where they are reflected to D, and bending there again as they pass out of the water, proceed to the point".

Rainbow image from Meteorology

This quotation illustrates how the shape of the rainbow is explained. To simplify the analysis, consider the path of a ray of monochromatic light through a single spherical raindrop. Imagine how light is refracted as it enters the raindrop, then how it is reflected by the internal, curved, mirror-like surface of the raindrop, and finally how it is refracted as it emerges from the drop. If we then apply the results for a single raindrop to a whole collection of raindrops in the sky, we can visualize the shape of the bow.

Shape of Rainbow


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