Herschel/SPIRE Infrared Astronomy Schools Ask an Astronomer Media
Infrared astronomy is the detection, analysis, and study of infrared light produced in our universe. Stars, galaxies, and other astronomical sources (dust or gas) produce or reflect not only visible light (what human eyes see), but also emit radiation in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio waves, ultraviolet, gamma rays, or infrared. Astronomers have developed tools to observe the universe in these sections of the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared is the range of the electromagnetic spectrum between the visible and microwaves.
The electromagnetic spectrum.
  Material between -270 and -100 C is not hot enough to be visible to human eyes. Nonetheless, it still emits infrared radiation. There is plenty of material in the vast space between stars in this temperature range; space is a very cold place unless you are close to a star! Astronomers generally use the term Interstellar Medium to refer to this material. Infrared cameras can detect the distribution and structure of this particularly cold matter in the universe. Observing in the infrared allows astronomers to see and study regions of the universe, which are mostly dark in the visible. Another reason why astronomers prefer to make observations in the infrared is that infrared radiation travels much longer distances than visible light, which ‘gets lost’ (scattered) rather easily. Any particles that happen to be in the line of sight have a much greater chance to absorb visible rather than infrared light.
©IPAC /Coolcosmos

An emu, hiding in the dark (above), can be seen with an infrared camera (below).


Infrared Astronomy

Quick Site Navigation

Site Map Contact Credits Guest Book Resources