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Infrared astronomers study parts of the infrared spectrum, which consists of electromagnetic waves with wavelengths ranging from just longer than visible light to 1,000 times longer than visible light. Earth’s atmosphere absorbs infrared radiation, so astronomers must collect infrared radiation from places where the atmosphere is very thin, or from above the atmosphere. Observatories for these wavelengths are located on certain high mountaintops or in space (see Infrared Astronomy). Most infrared wavelengths can be observed only from space. Every warm object emits some infrared radiation. Infrared astronomy is useful because objects that are not hot enough to emit visible or ultraviolet radiation may still emit infrared radiation. Infrared radiation also passes through interstellar and intergalactic gas and dust more easily than radiation with shorter wavelengths. Further, the brightest part of the spectrum from the farthest galaxies in the universe is shifted into the infrared.

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