What are Infrared Waves? Infrared Examples

Joseph Comunale, David Wood
  • Author
    Joseph Comunale

    Joseph Comunale obtained a Bachelor's in Philosophy from UCF before becoming a high school science teacher for five years. He has taught Earth-Space Science and Integrated Science at a Title 1 School in Florida and has Professional Teacher's Certification for Earth-Space Science.

  • Instructor
    David Wood

    David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson, learn about infrared waves and find examples of infrared wave uses. See how humans have invented equipment that can utilize infrared radiation. Updated: 12/13/2021

Table of Contents


Infrared Waves

The simple definition of infrared waves is the wavelengths and frequencies within a certain range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared waves are waves of electromagnetic radiation that exist in the wavelengths just above the wavelengths of the visual light spectrum, and they are just a little larger than the wavelengths for the color red. Infrared waves are between the ranges of 700 nanometers and 1 millimeter (1,000,000 nanometers) in wavelength. Though both visual light and infrared light are both light (electromagnetic radiation), infrared waves are just outside (or in front of) the ranges of frequencies and wavelengths of light that are detectable by the human eye. So, even though anything that has heat is emitting infrared waves, the human eye cannot see it; though, skin can detect and feel it. However, there are species of animals that can see various frequencies outside the range of what humans call the 'visual' light spectrum. For example, certain families of snakes such as pythons, boas, and vipers have something called a pit organ on their snouts which allows them to detect and essentially see infrared wavelengths between 5 and 30 micrometers.

This diagram shows the electromagnetic spectrum which includes infrared waves.

This diagram shows infrared radiation examples as one of the ranges of electromagnetic waves.

This is a python which has infrared sensors on its snout and can see infrared waves.

This image shows a python which can sense infrared light with its pit organ on its snout.

Though humans don't have the natural ability to detect infrared waves from distances that would constitute seeing like a snake sees infrared waves, there are technologies that allow for the real-time visualization of infrared radiation and heat.

How are Infrared Waves Used to See?

As previously mentioned, infrared radiation is emitted by anything that possesses heat. It's important to remember that all things possess heat, even cold things such as snow or an ice cube; though cold things just possess less heat than things that are typically described as hot. Therefore, all things are emitting certain amounts and ranges of infrared waves. Therefore, if technology were to absorb, detect, and measure the infrared radiation emitting from everything in front of it just like a radio can for radio waves, the technology could essentially convert this data into visualization and possibly simulate what a snake might see. This is exactly what some technologies can and do achieve such as night vision goggles and thermal imaging cameras. Infrared or thermal imaging can be used for medical purposes, for applications within security systems and security cameras, and also warfare. However, there are also other examples of the application of infrared sensing technology.

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  • 0:00 What Are Infrared Waves?
  • 1:05 Remote Controls &…
  • 1:30 Night Vision & Heat
  • 1:45 Astronomy
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This image demonstrates what night vision goggles see, an infrared waves example.

This is infrared examples. This shows the view from within night vision goggles.

Examples of Infrared Waves

Infrared sensing technology is also used or applied within the following simple technologies or even large technological sectors and scientific fields of study:

TV remotes and many other remote controls use infrared emitting and sensing technology to all devices to signal and control other devices from a distance.

The sensor on the front of a TV remote sends signals in the form of infrared waves.

This image shows the infrared sensor on the front of a TV remote.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are infrared waves in physics?

In the field of physics, infrared waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation within the wavelength ranges of 700 nanometers and 1 millimeter. These wavelengths and frequencies are just slightly larger than the ranges that are known as the visual light spectrum. Infrared light is just in front of the color red on the visual light spectrum.

What are 3 uses of infrared waves?

Three common uses for infrared waves are the following:

Thermal imaging cameras for night-vision and security cameras.

Remote controls use infrared sensors to signal and control devices from distances.

Infrared sensing technology on satellites is used by meteorologists and climatologists to study the temperatures around the globe.

What is an example of infrared waves?

Infrared waves are a type of radiation that is emitted by objects that possess heat and are releasing that heat. For example, pythons and vipers have thermal sensors on their snouts that can detect the infrared waves emitting the body heat of their prey, making them very successful hunters even at night.

Is a remote an example of infrared waves?

A remote is an example of a device that uses infrared waves. A TV remote will use signals emitted from the front of the device in the form of infrared waves within certain wavelengths. These signals from the remote are detected by the television or other device and allow the user to control their device from a distance.

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