Seeing Infrared

I’ve recently become obsessed with thinking about the world in other (non-optical) wavelengths. I work with data from submillimetre detectors (approximately microwave wavelengths) and little of what I see around me in my everyday life would be very interesting through this filter (the atmosphere usually absorbs my particular blend of astronomy) . Radio waves however, are flying around me all the time, so is some UV radiation. The thing that has really started to fascinate me though is the infrared.

The image at the top of this post is from the IRAS satellite and it shows our galaxy, the Milky Way, in the far infrared. It is quite beautiful and in fact goes much deeper in detail. What you’re seeing is a sort of heat map of the galaxy. The structures and details shown in the infrared are very different to those seen in optical light. Objects that are invisible to the human eye can shine brightly in infrared, such as warm cores surrounded by think blankets of dust.

So with all this buzzing about in my head you can imagine my delight at borrowing the department’s infrared camera! I was able to take the handheld thermal digital camera out and about in Cardiff for the afternoon and then take it home too. I took shots of just about anything that might be interesting in the infrared and posted them up on Flickr.


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