Infrared rays: invisible astronomy

Unlike any other discipline of science, for instance, physics, chemistry, biology, the study of space and astronomy have very few tangible things to work with. A big part of this study remains under the observation. Most of this observation needs heavy equipment such as telescopes, rovers and other best possible technologies. If you are interested in getting a better understanding of one of the most frequently used of them which is based on infrared rays, this article will provide you with a lot of interesting facts.

Optical telescopes and visible light

Fortunately, the time of relying only on optical telescopes ended and the ear of ever advancing technologies has already started. The way the optical telescopes helped astronomers study the outer space was based on capturing as much of the visible light as possible emitted by various objects from outer space. It is crucial to understand that the structure of optical telescopes is relies on the light which humans can physically see. Yet, visible light is not the only source now.

There are other ways scientists have found which allow them to tap into the rich source of these objects. These are various energy emissions coming from stars, planets and other objects floating in the space.

One of the energy emissions scientists are now widely using for space exploration is an infrared ray. Tuning to the waves of this length gave astronomers and us a new perspective of space and technology.

Why should we use infrared radiation for space exploration?

Our eyes are not sensitive enough to pick up the waves of the infrared ray length, therefore, we miss out the radiation coming out from the sky. It would have been a completely different scenario than what we know and see now if people had a biological ability of capturing the light with the length of the waves equal to the ones of the infrared rays. We would be surprised by the beam of cosmic clouds and multiple galaxies burning with new-born stars, scattered all over the space.

We would have been able to capture the tiniest young stars and the core of our galaxy. Usually, these are typically hidden by the grains of the interstellar dust. The infrared waves are capable of piercing through  the space dust and shooting throughout the space. It is said that every cosmic element and all of the objects which are cooler than normal stars meaning the temperature below 3,000 degree Celsius are emitting infrared rays.

The usage of infrared rays on the Earth for space exploration

As you have already understood, the usage of infrared waves for studying cosmos is a way more promising than the application of a previous technology based on the light coming of the visible spectrum. Still, there is one serious implication which does not people to set the devices for detecting the infrared light coming from the space freely.

The problem is related to the nature of the Earth’s atmosphere which makes it difficult for the waves of the infrared nature to penetrate through the layers of the mixture of water vapour and carbon dioxide surrounding our planet. This makes it impossible to install observatories which would be focusing on studying the cosmic infrared radiation. Yet, this does not mean people have no chances for utilising this powerful source of knowledge right from the Earth. Locating the devices detecting infrared radiation in the high locations of the planet improves the detection efficiently.


Infrared light and space observation

Space observation would stuck at a certain point if people have not discovered the usability of the infrared radiation which has a great potential for space exploration than visible light. Visible light allowed people to get the information about the space through the optical telescopes. The old technology can be compared to optical microscopes which are a way less powerful than the modern devices based on the electron emission technology. With such instruments people are working with the information based on the emission of energy or light rather than a direct picture of the observed subject which can be recognised by human eyes.

The importance of the technology based on infrared rays

You can imagine how much information about cosmic structure is encrypted by the light of the length people are not capable of seeing. This means that the development of the technologies which allow people to utilise infrared waves is similar to deciphering some of the hidden information. Using this rich source of information scientists can unravel a way more than the usual optical telescopes. You can certainly understand now how limited was the field for observation for scientists whose only tool were optical telescopes.

The nature of infrared rays

The infrared waves are located at the end of the visible spectrum. The red end of the visible spectrum to be precise.

This radiation stays there with the coverage of 700 nanometres or 700 billion of a millimetre to 1 millimetre in the electromagnetic spectrum. The one millimetre of length is the next type of waves in the spectrum which has radio waves.

Infrared rays – usage

Astronomers came to divide the infrared waves into four categories. Currently, the classification of the infrared waves includes near, mid, far and submillimetre waves. This division helps astronomers to point the wavelengths. The differences in the length determine a category of a wave.

It remains as a constant struggle if astronomers or anyone wants to study infrared waves from the Earth’s surface. The Earth’s atmosphere is covered with carbon dioxide and water vapours suck in the infrared waves from this low end. At the same time, if we care able to reach to the high mountains, we may still be able to pick up on infrared waves. Some of the shorter and longer wavelengths still reach to the mountain tops.

By the way, infrared light is used not only for space observation. One of the other ways of utilising these waves on the Earth is the technology used in remote controllers which are applied to controlling remote devices. Another common usage is in optical fibres. These are a special type of fibres which can be found in telecommunication lines as well as the lines of your internet. In addition to it, infrared waves allow people to get a thermal image of a body with special cameras useful for detecting body heat. These are a couple of examples of using infrared rays by people.