The Military

From night-vision goggles to heat-seeking missiles, the military relies on infrared technology in war zones. Infrared light can also help save lives by detecting land mines, and can be used to uncover evidence of war crimes.

War Zones

The most familiar uses of infrared technology by the military are airborne forward looking infrared (FLIR) scanners, guidance heads for missiles, and night vision goggles. People, vehicle engines, and aircraft glow in the infrared because they generate and retain heat. By detecting warm objects in cooler surroundings, infrared (FLIR) scanners not only help pilots fly in fog, they also detect sources giving off heat, like people and tanks. Night vision goggles allow soldiers to see in levels of light approaching total darkness by letting them see things around them like people, animals, or moving vehicles that are glowing in the infrared.

Heat-seeking guidance heads for missiles hone in on the hot areas of a target. The hot spot is detected by the missile's seeker head, which provides the guidance system with the relative position of the target, enabling the weapon to find and destroy the target.

Land Mines

A life-saving use of military infrared technology is the detection of hidden land mines. With an estimated 85 million land mines hidden around the globe, tens of thousands of people are killed or injured by land mines every year. With the growing use of non-metallic land mines, finding them and clearing them has become harder, as they can no longer be found using metal detectors. Instead, the military now uses infrared technology to hunt them down.

A field containing land mines displays a distinctive pattern of identical hotspots. Using infrared sensors, unmanned aircraft flying above battlefields can detect patterns of hot spots, and locate and chart land mines for the clearance teams.

Signs of Genocide

One of the more sobering uses of infrared technology is to detect the sites of mass graves in war zones. Soil that has been recently disturbed has a different infrared signature than packed soil, and can be detected using sensitive cameras onboard satellites.

Published: 02 August, 2013

Fun Fact

The Sun generates light and heat through nuclear fusion in its core, but a photon of light created there takes tens of thousands of years to escape from the Sun. It then only takes 8 minutes to reach the Earth.