- Liquid crystal sheet (available at museum,
nature stores, and science supply catalogs)
- Table top
Have a student touch his or her fingertips
on a table top for 30 seconds. Make sure the student has warm
the liquid crystal sheet only by its edges, put it on the spot
where the fingertips touched the table. Observe what happens
over the next several seconds.
Infrared telescopes have a detector sensitive to infrared light.
The telescope is placed as high up in the atmosphere as possible--on
a mountain top, in an aircraft or balloon, or flown in space--because
water vapor in the atmosphere absorbs some of the infrared radiation
from space. The human eye is not sensitive to infrared light,
but our bodies are. We sense infrared radiation as heat. Because
of this association with heat, telescopes and infrared detectors
must be kept as cool as possible. Any heat from their surroundings
will create extra infrared signals that interfere with the real
signal from space. Astronomers use cryogens such as liquid nitrogen,
liquid helium, or dry ice to cool infrared instruments.
This activity uses a liquid crystal detector
that senses heat. Also known as
the liquid inside the sheet exhibits dramatic changes in colors
when exposed to slight differences in temperature within a range
of 25 to 32 degrees Celsius. When the student placed his or
her fingers on the table top, heat from the fingertips transferred
to the table's surface. The liquid crystal sheet detects the
slight heat remaining after the student's hand is removed. A
visible image of the placement of the fingertips emerges on
the sheet. In the case of an infrared telescope in space, the
energy is detected directly by instruments sensitive to infrared
radiation. Usually, the data is recorded on computers and transmitted
to earth as a radio signal. Ground-based computers reassemble
- How was infrared radiation discovered?
- Learn about cholesteric liquid crystals. An
Austrian botanist, Freidrich Reinitfer, discovered them in 1838.
This Activity is from "Space-Based Astronomy:
A Teacher's Guide With Activities"
Originally published by NASA, August 1994.