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Amazingly, We Can See Infrared Light

Scientists investigate the weirdness of infrared light — and how we perceive it.

By Shannon PalusAugust 27, 2015 5:00 AM
Infrared - Nevit Dilmen
(Credit: Nevit Dilmen)


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While visiting a colleague’s lab, eye scientist Grazyna Palczewska saw a pale green line of light coming from a machine. Odd, she thought, since the machine used low-energy infrared light, too faint to be visible to humans.

But over the past several decades, a handful of scientists like Palczewska have reported similar instances of seemingly superhuman vision.

Palczewska and her colleagues at Polgenix Inc. set up an experiment to investigate the phenomena and found that everyone might have this strange ability. When observing a rapidly pulsing infrared laser, each of 30 participants reported seeing the light, too.

infrared infographic - Roen Kelly/Discover
(Credit: Roen Kelly/Discover)

If you want to see the whole infrared world, you’ll still need goggles. But the team’s computer simulations and calculations reveal a mechanism naturally occurring in our eyes that allows us to glimpse the low-energy light without the aid of technology.

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