IR Shuttle

Contributed by
May 12, 2009
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Infrared image of the Shuttle launch
This spectacular image of the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch yesterday is making the rounds; click to see the embiggened version on Gawker. It really is incredible; it was taken using an infrared-sensitive camera, so the texture is a bit different. The color is false, but does heighten the sense of unreality to it. I perused more of Eliot Schechter's photography and his stuff is marvelous.

Sorry about the small size displayed here, but the bigger version is copyrighted and being sold by Getty Images; I don't want to trample on anyone's rights, but I do want people to see the big version, so I shrank the image.

I used to shoot IR film years ago, and it made everything look just a little odd; facial features were fuzzed out a bit, but veins and pupils were accentuated. Trees just looked weird; the leaves glowed. Note that this is not thermal infrared, that is, wavelengths so long that you're seeing what you might think of as heat. In this case it's the kind of light just outside what your eye can see. It's amazing how different things look even when the light is changed just a little bit.

Of course, that's why we launch observatories sensitive in the UV, IR, X-rays... things look different in different light. You can learn a lot by metaphorically widening your eyes a bit.