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Basic Astronomy Concepts

Infrared Astronomy

radio waves, Young stars, Infrared Astronomy, visible light, Infrared radiation

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Infrared Astronomy, the detection and study of infrared radiation emanating from objects in outer space. Infrared radiation is another form of electromagnetic energy, similar to visible light and radio waves, but differing by its wavelength (or frequency); all such waves travel at the speed of light in a vacuum. Infrared wavelengths begin around 0.0007 mm just beyond the reddest light that the human eye can detect, this is called the “near” infrared, and grow in size to about 0.35 mm in the “far” infrared. Wavelengths larger than this belong to the sub-millimeter, microwave, and radio parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Infrared observations are important in astrophysics for several reasons. Infrared radiation penetrates more easily through the vast stretches of interstellar gas and dust clouds than does visible and ultraviolet light, revealing regions hidden to normal telescopes. Young stars are surrounded by a cocoon of gas and dust which can make them invisible, but their heat warms the dust grains and produces infrared radiation which escapes to reveal their presence. Infrared radiation is also called “thermal” or heat radiation. Many molecules, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2), and tiny solid particles known as dust grains, are best studied at infrared wavelengths. Finally, the expansion of the universe changes (or redshifts) the visible light emitted by the most distant galaxies into red and infrared light.

Article key phrases:

radio waves, Young stars, Infrared Astronomy, visible light, Infrared radiation, radio parts, distant galaxies, heat radiation, infrared wavelengths, electromagnetic spectrum, infrared light, speed of light, human eye, ultraviolet light, astrophysics, outer space, hydrogen, H2, carbon monoxide, objects, molecules, regions, microwave, expansion, mm, vacuum, frequency, presence, detection, reasons, size

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