Why Use an Infrared Telescope?
by Alan Tokunaga
Infrared radiation is
heat. It is electromagnetic radiation that is at longer wavelengths than
the optical radiation we see with our eyes. Although we cannot see infrared
radiation, we can feel it. The heat from the stove in a kitchen is infrared
radiation that we feel with our skin.
Infrared astronomy gives
scientists the ability to measure the temperatures of planetary bodies,
stars, and the dust in interplanetary space. There are also many molecules
that absorb infrared radiation strongly. Thus the study of the composition
of astrophysical bodies is often best done with infrared telescopes.
Optical and infrared
telescopes are very similar in construction, but infrared telescopes like
the IRTF are designed to minimize the amount of heat that is emitted by
the telescope itself. All new telescopes are built to operate at both optical
and infrared wavelengths.