HONOLULU (KHON2) — In Hawaii, rainbows are a common but welcome sight due to the abundance of sunlight and water. Seeing one at night, however, is less common. According to NASA, the only difference between them is the source of light.

Donald Keopuhiwa saw his first “moonbow” on Tuesday, July 12, at Waikomo Beach, just after Kea’au Beach Park. His first reaction was, “That can’t be a rainbow, it’s night time,” but as he stared longer, he could see the faint colors of what turned out to be a moonbow, also known as a lunar rainbow or white rainbow.

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“It was the first night of the full moon and it was raining down Yokohama Bay, and so the light from the moon was causing this beautiful moonbow to be seen,” said Keopuhiwa. “Everyone at camp thought I was crazy pointing it out till they seen it with their own eyes and all stared in awe.”

Just as rainbows are lit by the sun, moonbows are lit by the moon, but since the sun is so much brighter, rainbows are also much brighter and more commonly seen.

A moonbow is seen on Tuesday, July 12, at Waikomo Beach.
(Courtesy: Donald Keopuhiwa)

Moonlight is itself reflected sunlight, according to NASA, so the colors are nearly the same. Both rainbows and moonbows are created by light being scattered inside small water droplets, usually from a nearby rainfall — each raindrop acts as miniature prism, together creating a spectrum of colors.

Though moonbows are more difficult to see — and often appear to be white — the colors do appear in long exposure photographs. Hawaii landscape photographer Wade Morales was successful in being able to capture them.

“Moonbows are not rare but more elusive,” said Morales. “To see them, you will need a night when the moon is bright. There also needs to be a presence of atmospheric haze or moisture in the air. Moonbows often appear and disappear very quickly.”

Back in November, Morales photographed moonbows at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. With the moonbow on the left and the main vent of Halema’uma’u Crater glowing brightly on the right, the photo feels divided by cool and warm tones. Morales described it as having a yin and yang feeling to it.

“Seeing a moonbow is dependent on the weather, the moon phase, and the moon’s positioning in the sky,” he said. “I love the challenge of photographing moonbows in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where they can be seen around Halema’uma’u Crater.”

He even captured a double moonbow during the three days he spent on the volcano, waiting for the perfect weather conditions. Click here to see his other works.

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And there may be another chance to see a moonbow! On Wednesday, July 13, the moon will be at perigee, its closest to earth for this orbit. That means it’ll appear bigger and brighter than usual. It will be the last “supermoon” this year, and with the current weather, a spectacular moonbow could grace the skies to mark the occasion.