John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2017 July 24
 2018 May 12

    On January 1, 2017, the first segment of the Second Avenue subway 
/opened, over some 80 years of planning and false starts. The segment 
reaches along 2nd Av from 63rd St to 105th St with three new stations. 
These are ar 72nd St, 86th St, 96th St. The line north of 96th St is 
tunnel fitted with tail tracks for storing extra trains. 
    The new line attaches to the subway grid at Lexington Av/63rd St, 
which was in partial operation for an other lines.  Altho this station 
worked only two of its full four tracks, the 3rd and 4th tracks were 
built behind false walls and were used for off-duty moves of trains. 
These tracks were capped at the east end of the station by simple 
bumpers or blocks. The 2nd Av ties into these two tracks and the 
temporary walls were removed. 
    I rode the line within its first week of operation for a look-see 
but did not routinely use it then after. The line quickly filled with 
riders, some 200,000 per weekday by late spring.  

My want of a seat
    The route working the line is Q, which previously wither served 
lines in Queens or ended its uptown run at 57th St/7th Av. The Q train 
is my normal train to go home from work. 
    Before the 2nd Av line opened i rode the Q uptown a couple stops, 
crossed over, boarded a downtown Q. This train was usually loosely 
filled with many vacant seats.  When the Q route was extended into 2nd 
Av, the downtown trains were filled with few vacant seats. I started 
to ride the uptown train to Lex/63, where for a while I usually got a 
seat on a downtown train. 
    By early April this trick was no longer dependible.  Ridership on 
the line was growing, leaving fewer and fewer seats at Lex/63. I had 
to ride uptown farther to a point where the train didn't fill up yet. 
    I soon found that 72/2 was too iffy for a seat. Trains were often 
standing-room-only. I tried 86th St, which offered a better chance, 
and 96th St, where the route began it downtown trip. I note that going 
home was not a time-critical trip. It was OK if my home ride took ten 
or twenty minute longer, as long as i had a seat for reading or 
    On the first occasion to ride farther than Lex/63, to 72/2 
on/about April 10, I was treated to an amazing spectacle! 

Blood and bones 
    As I waited on the downtown platform I lazily looked at the 
station wall on the far side of the track. This, and other 2nd Av 
stations, has an island platform with up and down tracks on wither 
    Along the outer wall is a broad band with diagonal red and white 
stripes. This is the 'blood-&-bones' danger warning. It is attached to 
any structure in the subway where there is no safe clearance for a 
person on the track to stand safely as a train passes by. He will be 
smeared into, well, blood and bones, between the structure and the 
train. Some stations have recesses or niches at several meter 
intervals into which a person can duck to clear a passing train. If 
the wall separates two tracks, the niche is a hatch to access the 
other track, but a reckless retreat into it can easily pose a threat 
by stepping into the path of a train on that track. . 
   The B&N band is made of some reflective material like commonly used 
for signs and barriers in obstruction or road works. On many stations 
the B&B strop causes a halo or aura when viewed face-on. This 
reflection is a neutral color or white, from the color of the lamps in 
the station.

    On that April evening I scanned the upstream end of the track to 
catch sight of a downtown train. This is a routine practice when 
waiting for a train: Is it coming yet? 
    That's when I saw the spectacle. 
     Rainbows under Second Avenue!! 
    Not a complete arc but two segments, splashes, of the rainbow. 
They were vividly colored and, to me, dazzlingly bright. I imagine 
that an unknowing witness may report a fire on the track! 
    The splashes are on the B&B band, not the wall. There are two 
rainbows, one each about 45-50 degree left and right fro a face-on 
view of the wall. On the band each is  about 3/4 meter long! 
    The colors are in classical rainbow sequence.  The red end is 
toward the nearer end of the splash; blue, farther. The pattern s a 
bit wrinkled, probably from the uneven surface of the B&B band. 

Source of light 
    On this, and subsequent days, I played with the rainbows. The 
follow me as I walk along the platform. This indicated the light 
source is continuous all along the platform. it is not a chance line-
up with a spot light. 
    The 2nd Av stations are lighted by tubular fluorescent lamps over 
the platform edge. I applied a handheld spectroscope to the lamps. The 
present a spectrum similar to the colors in the rainbows. 
    I walked to the end of the platform, under the last tube of lamps. 
Both left and right splashes remained in view. The one nearer the 
station end, near the end of the B*B band, was more brilliant against 
the dark tunnel surrounding it. 
    When I stepped one meter farther to the end, next to the trespass 
warning sign, the end rainbow slided off of the end of the B&B band. 
The band ends here because in the tunnel near the station there are 
recesses for escaping a passing train. Retreating a meter, it 
reappeared. This shows that the effect is a backward reflection from 
the lamps farther along on the platform, more or less behind me. 
    Altho the fluorescent lamps run the full length pf the platform, 
missing only the extreme ends, they are blocked from the tracks by 
occasional hang signs and station structure. The loss of light is not 
noticeable because there is ample lighting from adjacent ;amps. 
    When I walked along the platform once in a while one of the 
rainbows blanked out. I looked up and behind me and usually did see 
something overlapping the lamps. Moving away to the next, unblocked, 
tube restored the rainbow. 

Range of visibility 
    The rainbows on each side of the station are caused by the lamps 
over their own tack. The lamps are blocked from view from the opposite 
platform. I could stand near one edge and see FOUR rainbows, two from 
the lamps on my edge and the two from the lamps on the opposite edge. 
    The nearer ones, on my side, are about  five meters. The ones on 
the far side are some dozen meters away.
    I tried seeing them from the stairs leading up to the mezzanine. 
About 2/3 up my view is blocked by structure, but as far up as i could 
ascend the rainbows remained in sight. 
    I could nt see them from the mezzanine because it offers no view 
of the tracks. They are hidden by walls. 
    In general, the closer i was to the rainbows, the more brilliant 
and flashy they are. The farther ones are subdued, yet still quite 

    The rainbows come out well in photographs. No flash is needed with 
so much ambient illumination in the station and the luminance of the 
splashes. Let the imaging device work out the exposure or set the 
device to 'auto'.  

Weird phaenomenon! 
    Why were these rainbows so long in catching attention? There were 
previews rides on the line for the news media and dignitaries. None 
seem to take notice of the splashes. 
    The line attracts 180,000 or so riders per day, the creaming envy 
of transit planners else where. 
    I checked webs for announcements or essays about the rainbows i 
hope that some artist or nature enthusiast saw them. None so far. Some 
webs explain or show the artwork in these stations, some of which I at 
first thought were celestially inspired. Surely the splashes could be 
taken as some viewer-interactive kinetic 'artwork' along with the 
static pieces in the stations? 
    In late June I inquired at NYC Transit about the effect. It didn't 
know anything about the rainbows. it hazarded that the B&B band may be 
compromised by them or that there may be reports of 'track fires'. As 
at late July NYC Transit was 'still investigating'. 
    I don't mind becoming the one who called public notice to these 
amazing color splashes that really, like really, make the stations, 
erm, sparkle. I didn't start out for that honor. I merely sw a new 
previously unreported phaenomenon, played with it to better 
characterize it, and now deliver the news to you. 

A clue? 
     At the NYSkies Astronomy Seminars in June and July I brang large 
color printouts of a few photos I took of the rainbows. I passed them 
around to show what to look for when riding the 2nd Avenue line. They 
illustrate the splashes from various viewing places in all three 
    I was floored by the reaction from the astronomers! 
    Some saw the rainbows in the pictures and studied them closely. 
These folk made it a point to look for them soonest they are in the 
new subway line. 
    Other astronomers astounded me with protests of not seeing 
anything special in the pictures! Even when adjacent astronomers 
pointed out the splashes, these people claimed there was nothing but 
the red and white diagonal stripes. No colorations or hrilliances.  
    I tried the pictures at work and got similar dichotomy of 
reaction. Some saw the rainbows and others wondered why I took 
pictures of the subway wall. 
    My sample of people was too small to apply meaningful statistics. 
I  may have to try at a large group of astronomers like NEAF or AAVSO. 
    I have NO explanation for this. The image is fixed in the 
printout, not a live apparition dependent on peculiar lighting. 

An amazing photograph
    By spring of 2018 the rainbows in all three 2nd Avenue stations 
were still vivid. I worried that eventually the rainbows will be 
obscured by dirt and grime over the months. It seems that the blood-&-
bones band, as a safety feature, is wiped clean with the routine 
maintenance of the stations. 
    A question came up: Were the splashes part of the construction, or 
did they somehow develop after the line opened? I had no way to answer 
this question, being that the occasional tours of the line before 
opening were always filled when I tried to sign up for one. 
    In Match 2018 a reader sent me a photograph, not his own but one 
from a web. It had no provenance but seems to be taken by a transit 
worker in the weeks before the line was commissioned. The photographer 
was on stairs between the platform and mezzanine, aiming along the 
platform for a general view. On the platform transit crew is working 
on finishing touches. The station looks structurally complete with 
fixtures and furnishings in place, including the blood-&-bones stripe.  
TRACK!! The right one is thin and could be missed. The left one is 
dazzling with dense colors. 
    I have no clue if the photographer noticed the sp[lashes but this 
picture proves they were shining at least since the blood-&-bones 
stripe was attached to the station wall. The stripe likely was 
attached soonest the tracks were energized for work trains to move 
thru the stations, many months before public service began. 
    When the first regular trains rolled on the new line on Nw Year's 
Day 2017, the rainbows greeted them. 

Potential astronomy?
    I gave serious thinking to this weird phaenomenon, both for the 
real apparition and the printout images. Why are some people able to 
see the splashes and other can not? I have to assume the inability to 
see them is an honest reaction and not a dismissal of my 
    I then realized there are astronomical implications that could aid 
to resolve some puzzling questions. The sky has many colored patches 
like parhelia, aurorae, even genuine rainbows. I skip the Milky Way 
because they are a threshold target in New York City  even for 
astronomers versed in looking for them. 
    When I learn of parhelia &c in the sky I alert the NYSkies 
astronomers. Usually I get only a couple positive reports. This low 
response can be due to busyness of the astronomer, being away from the 
sky, poor local sky conditions, vanishing of the effect before 
observing it.
    I now suspect that many astronomers DO look and notice nothing 
The sky presents no out-of-ordinary aspect. 
    This previously unknown condition of human vision could have 
miserable consequences for observing aurorae or validating localized 
aerial optical effects. 
    I don't see how a person would on his own discover this 
characteristic of his vision. Unless he endeavors to do consistent 
watch of colored patches, of the kind noted above, in his normal 
astronomy, he may never know about it. It may hit him when a wide-
spread aurora erupts and he hears reports from astronomers around 
him.Or the evening news may show scenes of ordinary people agitated by 
a large solar optical display earlier in the day. The astronomer knows 
he was outdoors at that hour but can not recall seeing any unusual 
aerial activity. 
    What to do?
    Since the characteristic seems to be physiological one, it may 
have to be treated as a 'disability' which the astronomer must adapt 
to. It appears to be more than simple color-dullness, red-drop-off, 
red-green confusion because other instances of distinguishing color or 
patches  seem more or less normal. I suggest a thoro ophthalmic 
examination for a first-cur inquiry for a particular person's case. 
Other stations 
    It seemed reasonable to suppose that the rainbow effect came from 
the brand-new blood-&-bones sip in  the Second Avenue line. By good 
lick there were two other new stations, potentially throwing off 
    The Lexington/63 St station was reconfigured to attach the 2nd Av 
line to it. It resembles the mainline 2nd Av stations except that it 
has a two-deck  to separate the uptown and downtown traffic. I went 
there to check out the rainbows. 
    No rainbows. The B&B strip produced a hotspot reflection when 
viewed face-on. This is a normal feature of most safety-warning 
materials. I examined both decks with same results, no rainbows. 
     An other new station opened in June 2017. This was the restored 
station at South Ferry on the red line, trashed by hurricane Sandy. it 
was thoroly cleaned, fitted with new electric and mechanic gear, and, 
plausibly, a replacement B&B band. 
    The station looks about the same as it did before Sandy. it was 
not significantly altered except for current equipment and flood-
protection features.
    I looked for rainbows. None. The B&N strop gave a weak hotspot 
reflection, easily missed at first sight. 
    Fixtures and furnishings in subway stations are routinely 
replacement as needed, including missing, damaged, dirty-coated blood-
&-bones bands. There is no formal notice of such replacement for being 
part of the ordinary maintenance of the subway system. 
 .  I will not hunt around all 460+ stations for newly installed B&B 
bands. if a reader comes across one, please examine it for rainbows. 

    The rainbows under Second Avenue as at ;ate July are holding up 
well, not dulled by built-up dirt. Eventually they will fade under the 
cover of dirt. Will they return after a cleaning of the walls? Or, 
just possibly, the band has some odd coating that makes the rainbows 
and could be washed away. 
    This article is a work in progress and will be revised as new 
information comes along. In the meanwhile, do ride into the 2nd Av 
line and admire its rainbows.