Infrared photography has been around a little more than 100 years, with the earliest published photos dating to 1910. While many of the earliest developments in infrared technology found military applications, thermography is today used in many fields, from astronomy to agriculture to medicine. While scientists study these photos to discern important details, the rest of us can look at them and think, “That’s pretty cool.” We were awed by a couple of recent infrared images, one from Hurricane Irma, the other from the total solar eclipse, inspiring this collection of photos.
10. Another View of the Total Solar Eclipse
The total solar eclipse that covered a wide path across the U.S. on Aug. 21, 2017, is captured here near the moment of totality in infrared. Birmingham-based Southern Research built the imaging systems that recorded this aboard a NASA research aircraft at about 50,000 feet. Scientists say images such as these will help further our knowledge of the Sun’s corona.
9. Earth Shows a Different Side
The image of Earth most people are familiar with is the famous “Blue Marble,” which is stitched together from multiple photos. This image, taken by a Russian weather satellite in 2012, shows the Earth in one take, at 121 megapixels. The orange-brown color that is so strikingly noticeable in this image is vegetation, showing up in the infrared spectrum.
8. Volcanic Eruption
Chile’s Calbuco volcano erupted in 2015 for the first time since 1972. This high-resolution IR image came from the Suomi NPP satellite.
7. ‘Corn Belt’ Glows Like No Other Place on Earth
The agricultural output of many Midwestern U.S. states is so prolific that the region long ago earned the nicknames “Cornbelt” and “America’s Breadbasket.” One can cite stats all day showing the productivity of this region, but just check out this infrared NASA composite image showing the region glowing with fluorescence. The computer images were compiled from satellite data. According to NASA, “Healthy plants convert light to energy via photosynthesis, but chlorophyll also emits a fraction of absorbed light as fluorescent glow that is invisible to the naked eye. The magnitude of the glow is an excellent indicator of the amount of photosynthesis, or gross productivity, of plants in a given region.” NASA noted that the Midwestern U.S. showed “more photosynthetic activity than any other place on Earth.”
6. Hold That Pose
OK, there’s not much scientific about this image of two yoga enthusiasts captured in IR. It’s still a fun photo.
5. Death of a Star
This spectacular image is a composite of X-ray, optical and infrared photos of the Crab Nebula. This star in the constellation exploded long ago, an event visible on Earth as the Supernova of 1054 A.D. The infrared imaging from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope is visible in red. Astronomers have made numerous discoveries about the nature of the universe using IR images.
4. Hurricane Irma Glows With Surreal Color
As if the satellite images of Hurricane Irma weren’t frightening enough, this surreal IR image shows the Category 5 hurricane near its peak.
3. Hurricane Irma Redux
Here’s an alternate high-resolution IR shot of Hurricane Irma from Sept. 5.
2. Saturn Comes Alive in Color
Saturn glows in otherworldly glory in this false-color composite photo mixing visible and near-infrared red imaging taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
1. Light Up the Night
Chances are you’ve seen this famous image of the United States at night. You also probably didn’t realize it wouldn’t have been possible without IR photography. This is a composite of photos taken by the Suomi NPP satellite, using its new Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). Scientists can use such nighttime images to study how human activity is affecting the planet.