• What is a blackbody?

    blackbody is an object which absorbs all incident radiations it receives whatever the wavelength or direction and re-emits all these absorbed radiations. An important property of blackbodies is that the re-emitted energy level only depends on the temperature of the blackbody.

    For a prescribed temperature and wavelength, no surface can emit more energy than a blackbody.

    A blackbody is then an optical reference source, though a theoretical device.

  • What are the wavelength boundaries of infrared radiation?

    The infrared radiation is the electromagnetic radiation where wavelengths are between 700 nanometres and 1 millimetre. Thus, it is located between the red limit of visible spectrum and the shortest microwaves.

    Wavelength boundaries

    However, taking into account the major applications of thermal sensors, the main considered spectral range is between 1 µm and 50 µm including 3 major sub spectral ranges corresponding to the atmosphere transmission windows:

    • 1 µm to 3 µm or Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) or band I
    • 3 µm to 5 µm or Middle Wave Infrared (MWIR) or band II
    • 8 µm to 14 µm or Long Wave Infrared (LWIR) or band III.
  • What is emissivity?

    Usual objects are not blackbodies. They do not absorb 100% of the incident energy and usually select the absorbed wavelengths.


    Consequently, they cannot re-emit all the incident energy. The ratio between the re-emitted energy of a usual object and the re-emitted energy of a blackbody at the same temperature of the object is called emissivity and noted ε. This ratio depends on wavelength and is comprised between 0 and 1. Of course, the emissivity of a true blackbody equals 1.

    However, such bodies do not exist and manufacturing “blackbodies” consists in creating optical sources with emissivity value as high and as constant as possible over the widest spectral range. These sources are called grey bodies but practically sources with emissivity higher than 0.9 are also called blackbodies.

  • What is the Planck’s law?

    As mentioned in FAQ section, the quantity of energy emitted by a true blackbody only depends on its temperature. This radiation level, named Radiant Emittance R, is defined by the following distribution discovered in 1900 by the German scientist, Max Planck:



    • h is the Planck’s constant,                      h=6.626 x 1034 Js
    • K is the Boltzmann’s constant,                 K=1.381 x 10-23 J/K
    • c is the speed of light,                           c=2.998 x 108 m/s
    • λ is the wavelength (in meters) 
    • T is the temperature of the blackbody in Kelvin: T (Kelvin) = 273,16 + t (Celsius degree).

    Download our calculation sheet to determine the energy emitted by a true blackbody at selected wavelengths, depending on the temperature of the blackbody. 

  • Is it worth learning the Planck’s law to use a blackbody?

    No need for you to learn the Planck’s law by heart!
    However it is good to know some important properties of blackbodies as consequences of the Planck’s law:

    Planck's law
    • For any given wavelength, the Radiance level is an increasing function of the temperature,
    • For any given temperature, the Spectral Radiance curve reaches a maximum which wavelength can be easily calculated from the easy-to-remember Wien’s law
    Wien's law

    Example: a blackbody at 800K (i.e. 527°C approx.) emits its maximum radiation at about 3.6 µm, i.e. in the MWIR spectral range.