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JPL Infrared Video

Infrared Video: Infrared: More than Your Eyes Can See

Produced by NASA JPL Space Infrared Telescope Program. Runtime: 7 minutes. (Click to launch movie.) Requires the RealPlayer | Help

The Sun gives off energy at a variety of wavelengths. It emits x-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared radiation, and radio waves. Most of the x-ray and ultraviolet energy is absorbed by the atmosphere. However, visible light from the Sun penetrates easily through the atmosphere. Most eyes in nature respond to this range of wavelengths. Our eyes are sensitive to the colors we know so well: blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. These are the colors of light emitted by the Sun and transmitted through our atmosphere.

Our eyes are only sensitive to a narrow range of wavelengths, but we encounter “invisible” light in other ways. Radar is used to find the locations of airplanes and doctors use x-rays to diagnose diseases. If our ears had similar limitations to our eyes, we could hear at best a few notes on a piano around middle C but no other notes higher or lower.

What if our eyes responded to different wavelengths of light—perhaps to a wavelength longer than the wavelength of red light? If we had infrared vision, what would our world look like? Infrared light is produced by every object that has a temperature above absolute zero (-459.67 degrees F or –273.15 degrees Celsius). This thermal radiation from every object gives us an indication of its temperature.

When we look around the world with infrared vision, the world looks very different. Hot objects stand out and look bright. For example, a cat’s eyes and ears look bright while its cold nose looks dark. Special infrared cameras with heat sensitive detectors give us a very different view of a variety of objects and animals.

(Click for a larger image.)   (Click for a larger image.)   (Click for a larger image.)

Related to chapter 2 in the print guide.
Related Materials

For an overview of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, see the Electromagnetic Spectrum Chart.

Glossary Terms

Click for the definitions of the following words that are used on this page: (Definitions appear in a pop-up window.)

infrared radiation
ultraviolet radiation
white light

View the full, printable version of the glossary.

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