IR Shuttle

By Phil Plait | May 12, 2009 9:30 am
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.


Comments (30)

  1. Chris O

    Hmmm, link seems to be missing for Eliot Schecter’s site. I believe this is the correct link


    Phil, that link to Eliot Schecter’s photography does not work.

  3. Charlie Young

    IR photos always strike me as otherworldly. When done well, the images are striking.

  4. firemancarl

    Couldn’t see the launch in Port Orange yesterday..too cloudy! Hey I do have a question for..anyone?? Last night on the Science Channel-during their 3 shows about Hubble, one of the astronomers said something to the effect of a supernova going kablooie all over our young solar system and that this the only answer they have for isotope ‘Iron-60’. Any more info on it?

  5. Grrr. It’s a Firefox thing. When I highlight text and make it a link, a little window pops up where I can C&P the link URL. The window sometimes is a little slow, and doesn’t accept the paste right away. I thought I had tested the link before posting, but obviously not. Sorry, and it’s fixed now.

  6. Charlie Young

    Link still bad…

  7. Gorgeous image.

    Reminds me of an old SF story (Asimov?) about Martians who allow a human to observe the full color spectrum the Martians do…but only for a little while. They warn him not to do it, as going back to the boring old spectrum he’s familiar with will be maddening after glimpsing all the rest. Needless to say, he ignores their advice, sees the world as they see it for a bit, then when he’s returned to normal quietly goes mad.

  8. gopher65

    Yup. You have an extra http// (with no colon) in that link.

  9. CCDs see into the near-IR. Webcams generically contain a NIR cutoff filter. Replace the NIR filter with a visible filter and have a NIR camera. As white fabrics are primarily opaque by Raleigh light scattering, varying as the inverse fourth power of the wavelength, one must then exercise restraint or join Homeland Severity and go wild.

  10. IVAN3MAN

    Phil, not only is that link still bad (there is a superfluous “http://”), but also you have misspelled the man’s surname, which is Schechter.

  11. Dave in Texas

    I still shoot infrared with both film & digital, I love it! I have gravitated towards only film IR since I won’t have my digital camera converted to shoot IR easily. To get the real effect, you need to place a special filter over the lens. This filter is usually visually opaque (unless you happen to have eyes sensitive to some wavelengths) so focusing through a SLR camera is almost impossible. Which is why I use a rangefinder.

    This shot is awesome!

  12. IVAN3MAN


    Needless to say, he ignores their advice, sees the world as they see it for a bit, then when he’s returned to normal quietly goes mad.

    Not half as mad as Ray Milland in X: The Man With the X-ray Eyes.

  13. For a few hundred bucks there is at least one place on the Internet that offers to convert digital cameras (especially Canons) to be used in the IR band or even UV. They make some fantastic pictures.

  14. Brian

    kuhnigget: Yes, the story was Asimov’s, though I don’t recall the title. What I do remember, though, was that it wasn’t sight in the visual spectrum they bequeathed him, per se, but specifically the ability to sense magnetic fields. During his short sensitivity they played him a recording of a “musical” composition, but his magnetic sense faded before it ended.

  15. Well, dangit. Fail.

    OK, fixed again.

  16. Charlie Young

    WooHoo! Fixed…

  17. Charlie Young

    Awesome photos of the Shuttle. He must have a press pass to get some of those close in shots. He also seems to like the low shutter speed action photos of moving objects. Pretty amazing stuff.

  18. David D.G.

    Brian wrote:

    Yes, the story was Asimov’s, though I don’t recall the title.

    I remember that story. The title is “The Secret Sense.”

    ~David D.G.

  19. Thanks, David D.G. and Brian. That was the story I was remembering.

  20. MadScientist

    Wow – look at that lens flare – the hot exhaust gases sure are bright.

  21. Liam

    Anyone know where to get a high-quality version?

  22. ColonelFazackerley

    @Phil – check the creative commons license link (small at the bottom of the page). You may reproduce it at full res provided you attribute (tick), you are noncommercial (well you are not selling it, tick) and you reproduce the license (ooops).

    You need to plainly cite the CC license.

    @Uncle Al. check the exif data: it was taken with a canon EOS 20D. That’s CMOS, not CCD. filter stuff still holds, AFAIK.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    OTOH IIRC UV is supposed to make white flowers colored and distinguishable from each other, thus explaining its seeming ubiquity. Insects and perhaps birds may see a lot in them that we don’t.

  24. Kaleberg

    Most digital cameras are sensitive to infrared light. To check, look at the live LCD display on your camera, aim an IR remote control (from your TV or whatever) at it, and press a button. You’ll see the LED light up on the camera screen, but nothing with your naked eyes. There are IR filters available for digital cameras, at least those that have some way of mounting a filter in front of the main lens. Mine looks like black plastic, and it blocks a lot of light, including infrared light. I snapped it on and put my camera on a tripod for the long exposures, and sure enough I was shooting in infrared. The pictures looked like they were black and white, but the intensities were weird, and there was a lot of interesting detail. Odds are, if you own a pro-sumer digital camera, there is an IR filter you can use.

  25. you always post the best pictures Phil!

  26. REALLY REALLY nice picture, this IR picture looks amazing. Nice pic.


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