I’m continually amazed at the added beauty of the world when we are allowed to view it from a point beyond our usual sensory range.
Do you know why plants are green? It’s because they reflect green light more intensely than other colors. If anything, that kind of makes them not green. If it doesn’t contribute to photosynthesis, they have no use for it. And although we can’t see it with our limited vision, they also eschew the infrared.
Andrew Shurtleff has made a stunning time-lapse showcasing the world as viewed in near-infrared. The light-sensitive chips of digital cameras can sense these wavelengths outside human vision (near-infrared being about 800-2000 nm wavelengths compared to our 400-700 nm visual range). With the right kind of video editing, that infrared world comes alive like a planet painted from pure ice. The leafy material appears white due to its intense reflection of infrared light.
Infrared photography has been used for decades to study vegetation. Kodak’s infrared-sensitive Aerochrome film paints the plant world in an eerie dusting of pink that you’ll have to see to believe. And NASA, whose scientists use the entirety of the electromagnetic spectrum to paint pictures of our world and others in Pepto-pink, create amazing works of Earth as art using infrared filters:
(via Bad Astronomy)
As captured from the Landsat 3 satellite, this infrared-range image shows the loss of vegetation due to urban growth around China’s Pearl River Delta over a 30 year period.
What’s with the colors? Vegetation shows up as red in images like these thanks to the expanded infrared spectrum, and urban areas as gray. You can even see a completely new man-made island pop up in the bottom center! Today this region is home to over 36 million people.
More shots of urban growth from space at Wired Science.
The image you’re looking at is from Richard Mosse’s book Infra. It’s a collection of images in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo taken with infrared-sensitive film. Cool stuff. But why does it look this way?
Aerochrome is a Kodak film developed for aerial military surveillance. Its job was to pick out camouflage from surrounding vegetation. Healthy vegetation shows up as pink, and non-plant material shows up as darker blues.
It works because plants absorb blue and red wavelengths of light to fuel photosynthesis. They are green to our eyes because they reflect green light away from their leaves. But they also reflect infrared light, we just can’t see it with the naked eye. A tank painted like the forest won’t reflect infrared light in the same way a real tree will.
Military folks aren’t the only ones who use this. Check out how NASA uses infrared photography to study vegetation from space, and to image far-off planets.
Mapping the Infrared Universe: The Entire WISE Sky
TL;DR: Biggest picture of space you’ll see this week. WOW.
NASA has released the newest and most complete atlas of the entire infrared sky. The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has been collecting images from various wavelengths for three years, and this mosaic image represents the sum total of that survey.
By collecting 2.7 million pictures in four wavelengths, it has been able to catalog 560 million objects, most of which are stars and galaxies (almost equal numbers of each!). In a sense, this mosaic of 18,000 images (above) represents everything that we can see from Earth.
Of course, that’s not a big enough picture, is it? Click here to MEGA-EMBIGGENATE!!! (10,000 x 5,000 px!!) Don’t say I didn’t warn you :)