What is an Imaging Radar?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An imaging radar is a piece of radar equipment which is used for imaging. Radar can be utilized in a variety of creative ways, for both civilian and military applications, and imaging radar is no exception. This technology can be especially useful in aerial surveying, allowing observers to identify phenomena and structures which would not be visible otherwise.

Imaging radar can reveal traces of historic civilizations that might have been entirely invisible before.
Imaging radar can reveal traces of historic civilizations that might have been entirely invisible before.

Radar technology involves emitting radio waves, waiting for their reflection, and using this information to generate useful data. A classic use of radar is in navigation, where ships and aircraft can use radar to identify upcoming vessels or obstacles which may necessitate a change of course. For the military, radar has increased operational safety significantly while also providing people with a very valuable tool.

In the case of imaging radar, the returning radio waves are used to draw a picture. Changes in the radio waves as they reflect off objects on or in the ground provide data about how far they traveled and what kind of objects they encountered, creating a three dimensional image of the targets the device is aimed at. One advantage to using imaging radar is that it works even when there is heavy cloud cover or a similar obstacle, and it can be used to see through things like forests, layers of sand or soil, and so forth.

One fascinating application of imaging radar is in archeology. Historically, archeologists were limited by what they could see and uncover. Today, they can use imaging radar to conduct broad surveys of an area, mapping out and exploring a site before they start digging. Imaging radar can also reveal traces of historic civilizations which might have been entirely invisible before. For example, by surveying the Sahara with radar imaging equipment, researchers identified areas where streams and lakes were once present, allowing them to find traces of human populations in these areas and also gathering useful information about the climate history in that region.

Imaging radar equipment can be used on spacecraft and planes to image various areas of the Earth. People can also drive or push imaging equipment over an area of ground, as when geologists survey a site to learn more about the underlying rock. This equipment tends to be rather expensive, and a skilled technician is required to operate it to ensure that the data collected is useful and valuable. Technicians can also be involved in the interpretation of the information collected by imaging radar, identifying various structures “seen” by the imaging equipment.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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