The Infrared Window – A Time Line

astronomy research
1800’s William Herschel discovers infrared radiation in the laboratory by measuring the temperature in the contours of the solar spectrum beyond red.Charles Piazzi Smyth detects infrared from the full Moon. He also found the earth’s atmosphere absorbs some of the infrared.

An electrical detector of radiant heat, called bolometer, was developed. It was sensitive to 100000th of a degree.

Early 1990 Infrared detected from Jupiter, Saturn and bright stars (e.g. Vega).William Coblentz developed thermopile detectors to measure infrared from 110 stars. He is reported as the founder of modern infrared spectroscopy.


1920’s US astronomers conducted systematic observations of infrared radiation from celestial objects.Kodak made photographic film sensitive to infrared light.


1950’s Lead sulphide detectors were used to study infrared radiation.


1959-1961 Harold Johnson builds first near-infrared photometer.

Frank Low developed a germanium bolometer, which was hundreds of times more sensitive than previous detectors. It detected for-infrared.

1960’s Balloons carry infrared telescopes up to 40 km.


1967 Rockets observed the infrared sky; detected over 2000 sources.Mauna Kea observatory set up for detecting infrared in the atmosphere.


1968 First survey of the sky from Mt Wilson observatory was done. Some 75 per cent of the sky was scanned and 20,000 sources found.


1983 Infrared Astronomical Satellite launched.


1989 NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) launched to study both infrared and microwave remnants of the Big Bang. Found extremely small variations in temperature.


1990’s Adaptive Optics is used to correct the blurring of
infrared images at the ground observations. Excellent results were observed in infrared telescopes.
1993 South pole Infrared Explorer begins operations; it takes advantage of the much lower thermal background at very cloud and very dark night sky at the South pole.


1995 Japan’s Infrared telescope was launched. ESA’s Infrared Space Observatory was also launched. It was thousands of times more sensitive than IRAS.


1996 One-metre telescope in Chile makes a ground-based infrared survey of the entire southern sky.


1997 Ground-based all-sky survey of the Milky Way was started. Hubble Space Telescope with near-infrared and multi object spectrometer launched.


2001 Keck interferometer begins operation to find planets and life beyond, detects infrared emission from dust orbiting near stars and young stars.


2003 NASA’s Spitzer launched. Designed to detect a wide range of infrared sources including whit dwarfs, super planets, proto planets and ultra luminous galaxies, as well as a deep survey of early Universe.


2004 An observatory for infrared detection in the stratosphere,
carried by a Boeing 747.ForthcomingESA’s Hershcel; an infrared submillimeter telescope for detecting a wide range of infrared wavelengths. It will be used to study galaxy formation, interstellar matter, star formation and atmosphere of comets and planets.ESA’s planck Surveyor (in submillimeter range) will image the anistropics of the cosmic background radiation over the entire sky, with exceptional resolution and sensitivity.NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will study early Universe in visible, infrared and near infrared.Terrestrial planet Finder, a long base-line interferometer space mission. It will concentrate on detecting planets in the near infrared spectral region.Proposed

Darwin—designed to search for Earth-like planets around nearby stars. Six individual telescopes will be combined as an interferometer about 10 m across and will orbit between Mars and Jupiter beyond the zodiacal dust in infrared.

interstellar dust, with incredible detail. It makes it possible to make precise maps of the star formation. Spitzer’s extraordinary sensitivity enables us to detect signals not possible to see from the ground, and map out the sites of the most luminous starburst objects. Its goals also include search for debris disks around nearby stars, study young galaxies in early Universe and map nearby galaxies and the Milky Way’s mid-plane in detail. Already, Spitzer has found evidence of the first visible structure in the Universe.

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