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# Why are soap bubbles colored?

## The thickness of the film - or rather, its thinness - determines whether

iridescence is apparent. Light is reflected from both the inner and outer
surface of the soap bubble.

When an incoming ray of light strikes the outer surface of a bubble, part
of the light ray is reflected immediately, while the other part is transmitted
into the soap film. After reaching the inner surface of the film, this
transmitted light ray is reflected back toward the outer surface. When it
leaves the bubble, it travels in the same direction as the ray that was
immediately reflected and is, therefore, parallel to that ray.

If these two rays of light are reflected back so that their wavelengths are
"out of phase" with each other, the second ray will partly cancel out the
reflection of the first ray. This is called destructive interference, which results
in a reduction of color intensity. If, however, the wavelengths of the two
reflected rays are "in phase," they will enhance each other. This is called

constructive interference.
The light rays that are reflected off the inner surface of the bubble travel
further than the light rays that are reflected off the outer surface. Some
wavelengths will interfere destructively and others constructively, depending
on the extra distance traveled by a transmitted-and-reflected ray. Whether the
reflected rays are in or out of phase with each other depends on the extra
distance (through the film and back) that the second ray must travel before
rejoining the first ray. This distance depends on the angle of the incident light
and the thickness of the film.
White light is made up of different colors, corresponding to specific
wavelengths. As the film thickness changes, the extra distance the ray must
travel changes. Interference is constructive when the total extra distance
matches a specific wavelength of light, and is destructive when it is half a
wavelength. So if white light shines on a bubble, the film reflects light of a
specific hue, and this hue changes with the films thickness.
The iridescence of a soap bubble, which seems to contain a wealth of
changing color, stems from light striking the bubble from varied angles. The
path length varies with the angle of incident light, giving varying path
differences for the internally and externally reflected rays at different points
on the bubble. This means that, even if the soap film is of uniform thickness,
different colors can be seen. Light entering the bubble directly travels a
shorter path than light entering at a wider angle. This allows different
wavelengths to undergo constructive and destructive interference, so different
colors are perceived.