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Study of astronomical objects by observing the infrared radiation they emit. Its techniques enable examination of many celestial objects that give off energy at wavelengths in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum but that cannot otherwise be seen from Earth because they do not emit much visible light or because that light is blocked by dust clouds, which infrared radiation can penetrate. Infrared astronomy originated in the early 19th century with the work of William Herschel (seeHerschel family), who discovered infrared radiation while studying sunlight. The first systematic infrared observations of other stars were made in the 1920s; modern techniques, such as the use of interference filters for ground-based telescopes, were introduced in the early 1960s. Because atmospheric water vapour absorbs many infrared wavelengths, observations are carried out with telescopes sited on high mountaintops and from airborne and space-based observatories. Infrared astronomy allows studies of the dust-obscured core of the Milky Way Galaxy and the hearts of star-forming regions and has led to many discoveries including brown dwarf candidates and disks of matter around certain stars.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on infrared astronomy, visit Britannica.com.
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