Infrared radiation, also known as “IR,” is just one type of radiation that exists within the electromagnetic spectrum. The radiation that is used in microwave ovens is a type of radiation that has a place on the electromagnetic spectrum, while the radiation that is used in hospitals to create X-ray images is another. The light rays that allow humans to see the world around them and the radio waves that are used to deliver news and music are also types of radiation that exist within the electromagnetic spectrum.
Infrared radiation is so named because the wavelength of infrared rays is just a bit longer than that of red rays. The only types of radiation that humans can detect are light rays. If humans could see infrared rays on the color spectrum, it would appear just after or below red. The Latin infra translates to “below”.
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Infrared radiation is an incredibly important part of every human being’s life. This is because IR is quite literally heat. Although human eyes cannot visibly detect IR, they can surely feel it. Wrapping a hand around a cup of hot chocolate, take a walk in balmy weather, or enjoy sizzling fajitas; in all of these experiences are interacting directly with IR.
Although the human eye cannot detect radiation, scientists have developed mechanical eyes that can. IR cameras can take pictures of objects and beings that relay their topography in terms of the amount of heat that they are giving off. For example, in an IR photo of a snake eating a mouse, the cold blooded snake would be nearly invisible, but humans would be able to see the thermal outline of the warm blooded mouse.
There are many uses for infrared radiation cameras. They are used by the military to gain information about a target or place of interest. They are also used by astronomers to learn more about the cosmos. Meteorologists also use cameras that are sensitive to IR in order to predict temperatures and oncoming weather.