History and Art

Courtesy of Mitsubishi Electronics and Jeff Tinsley, Smithsonian

Invisible text on the Dead Sea Scroll (left or top) and preservation efforts on the original Star Spangled Banner (right or bottom)
Infrared imaging has been used to gather new information about historical objects and to help in their preservation and restoration. In 1993, a JPL researcher used infrared photography to reveal previously invisible details on fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1998, a NASA infrared camera was used to assist the Smithsonian Institution in preserving the Star-Spangled Banner. This early version of the American flag flew over Fort McHenry in 1812, and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to the U.S. national anthem.

Infrared imaging is routinely used in art conservation activities, and in the authentication and dating of artwork. Infrared technology is used to reveal underpaintings (images painted under paintings) by famous artists of the past, as well as to detect the faded pigments in ancient rock paintings.

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