Infrared Basics

Infrared lights falls in the electromagnetic spectrum between visible light and microwaves. Commonly it is thought of as radiated heat that can be sensed by our skin, but not seen by our eyes. All objects, above absolute zero, emit infrared radiation. The intensity of the infrared radiation depends on the temperature of the object.

Temperature Measurement

One way to measure the temperature of an object is by directly contacting the object with a thermometer or similar device. This is not always practical. Another way to measure the temperature of an object from a distance is to use an instrument sensitive to infrared radiation. Because infrared radiation is similar to visible light, only having a longer wavelength, it is possible to see infrared emitters with electronic cameras that respond to infrared wavelengths. These thermal imaging systems are in wide use by the military. Even in the dark of night, infrared emitters, like warm human bodies, can be displayed on TV-like screens. Such devices were widely used in the Gulf War, and are beginning to be used by law enforcement agencies.

It is possible to use this thermal image technology to determine the temperature of any and all points in a scene by measuring the infrared radiation emitted by every object in the scene. Such systems are finding widespread commercial use in predictive and preventive maintenance. In these applications, infrared images can detect hot spots in electrical or mechanical equipment that would indicate excessive resistance or friction.

Detectors

Infrared cameras have used sensors made of exotic materials that require cooling to -320F. A technology breakthrough, achieved through military research, now makes possible the production of uncooled high performance detectors capable of sensing and measuring infrared energy. A significant new period in the application of IR technology is emerging, fueled by the commercial availability of this new technology.

 

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