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What is Imaging Spectroscopy?

Jessica Reed
Jessica Reed

Imaging spectroscopy, also known as hyperspectral imaging, creates an image of an object by recording the light waves the object gives off. The process is similar to taking a photograph, but instead of recording only certain colors, the imaging spectrometer device picks up a wide range of light waves, some of which the human eye cannot see on its own. This allows scientists to observe the materials and chemicals which make up an object. The process is non-destructive, meaning scientists can observe the object without damaging it. It opens doors for more advanced medical and historical research as well as the ability to study land masses and their atmospheres.

When a person looks at an object, his eyes pick up certain light waves that he sees as colors. The eye blends all the colors he can see together to form a picture of the object he's looking at. Imaging spectroscopy does the opposite. It takes all the light waves in an object and breaks them down into individual points. Examining the images created using this method can reveal certain qualities about an object, such as the chemicals it contains.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Using imaging spectroscopy, observers can record not only the visible light the human eye sees, but also the ultraviolet and infrared light which humans cannot see. Two objects that appear similar in color on the surface may look very different when observing the ultraviolet and infrared light they give off. Chemicals and materials that make up an object each have a unique look when viewed using imaging spectroscopy and examining different items helps scientists determine what materials are found in new items they observe.

The image created from a spectroscope provides much more detail than a person could ever see from simply looking at the object. It may reveal materials such as blood on old fabric which were so small or faded the eye could not see them. It also helps in the exploration of planets as well as our own planet by examining the atmosphere and landmasses to see what they are made of. A scientist could look at an image of oil, for example, recorded with the spectroscope and can then take pictures of other areas to see if oil appears in those images. This lets the scientist know that oil is in the area without requiring the use of any destructive procedures to find it.

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