Infrared waves are critical for many human activities in science, business and the military. Infrared technology is employed in various devices, including night vision goggles, lasers, thermographic cameras, communications devices and weather satellites. Infrared waves are incredibly versatile, but they can also be dangerous.
More Information on Infrared Waves
Infrared waves are a type of energy found on the electromagnetic radiation spectrum. These waves have a longer wavelength than visible light and ultraviolet radiation. Infrared waves make up the largest portion of sunlight, with the rest being visible light and ultraviolet radiation. The heat that you feel on your face on a sunny day is caused by infrared radiation. Even your body emits infrared waves of heat, which are detectable by thermal imaging machines.
Infrared Waves and Eye Damage
People who work in industries where they are exposed to infrared radiation for long periods of time may experience eye damage. The human eye is sensitive to all of the radiation along the electromagnetic spectrum, especially if that radiation is at very high levels of intensity. Exposure to intense electromagnetic radiation, including infrared radiation, can damage the lens and cornea of the eye. This is why staring at the sun is harmful (and unintelligent). People who work near intense radiation must wear goggles.
Infrared Waves, Skin Damage and Lasers
Infrared waves in high enough concentrations can also damage skin and tissues. Infrared radiation waves are the same as heatwaves. Laser beams are composed of highly amplified electromagnetic radiation (visible light, microwaves, infrared and others). These lasers can be strong enough to burn a hole through metal and so could certainly damage flesh. Extremely powerful lasers are even being developed for military use as a weapon.
Infrared Waves and Greenhouse Effect
Infrared waves are involved in the greenhouse effect. The earth's surface and the clouds above it absorb radiation from the sun's rays and reemit it as infrared radiation back out into the atmosphere. When the air above the earth's surface has a high concentration of water vapour, elements such as sulphur and nitrogen, and chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, the infrared radiation becomes trapped on the earth. This causes increased temperatures and changes in weather patterns that could be harmful to people and animals.
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- "Eye Essentials: Environmental & Occupational Optometry"; Gordon Carson; 2008
- "The Laser Guide Book"; Jeff Hecht; 1999
- NASA Earth Observatory: Clouds and Radiation
- California Institute of Technology: Near, Mid and Far Infrared
- University of Chicago Press: The first laser