Infrared thermography, thermal imaging, thermographic imaging, or thermal video, is a type of infrared imaging science. Thermographic cameras detect radiation in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum (roughly 900–14,000 nanometers or 0.9–14 µm) and produce images of that radiation, called thermograms. Since infrared radiation is emitted by all objects near room temperature, according to the black body radiation law, thermography makes it possible to “see” one’s environment with or without visible illumination. The amount of radiation emitted by an object increases with temperature, therefore thermography allows one to see variations in temperature (hence the name). When viewed by thermographic camera, warm objects stand out well against cooler backgrounds; humans and other warm-blooded animals become easily visible against the environment, day or night. As a result, thermography’s extensive use can historically be ascribed to the military and security services.
Passive and active thermography.
All objects above the absolute zero temperature (0 K) emit infrared radiation. Hence, an excellent way to measure thermal variations is to use an infrared vision device, usually a focal plane array (FPA) infrared camera capable of detecting radiation in the mid (3 to 5 μm) and long (7 to 14 μm) wave infrared bands, denoted as MWIR and LWIR, corresponding to two of the high transmittance infrared windows. Abnormal temperature profiles at the surface of an object are an indication of a potential problem. Thermal imaging can detect elevated body temperature, one of the signs of the virus H1N1 (Swine influenza).
In passive thermography, the features of interest are naturally at a higher or lower temperature than the background. Passive thermography has many applications such as surveillance of people on a scene, and medical diagnosis. In active thermography on the other hand, an energy source is required to produce a thermal contrast between the feature of interest and the background. The active approach is necessary in many cases given that the inspected parts are usually in equilibrium with the surroundings.