List of largest infrared telescopes


Atmospheric windows in the infrared: much of this type of light is blocked when viewed from the Earth's surface.

List of largest infrared telescopes, by diameter of entrance aperture, oriented towards large observatories dedicated to infrared astronomy. Infrared has a number of challenges, especially for ground-based observatories but also in space. The near-infrared is similar to optical telescopes, although the longer wavelength infrared can also be related to aspects of radio and microwave astronomy. A major implication of looking at longer wavelengths are that infrared telescopes have a lower diffraction limit all else being compared to a visible light telescope, because the wavelength of light they are looking is longer. Secondly, infrared is heat, so the telescopes can be much more sensitive to emission of heat.


Infrared observations from Earth's surface are possible in a limited way but can be very dependent on location and atmospheric conditions. Water vapor blocks much of the infrared band in Earth's atmosphere, although some limited observations are possible and there is a number of infrared focused observatories, which often also view optical visible wavelengths. Sometimes other optical telescopes can make infrared observations if they are equipped with the right detectors, even if they are not dedicated infrared observatories. For ground-based observatories, the location can make a big difference in how much observation is possible.

Name Image Effective
m (in)
Site Year(s) Refs
VISTA VISTA at Paranal Eso0704b.tif 4.1 m (161″) 0.85 – 2.3 μm Paranal Obs., Chile 2008 [1]
UKIRT UKIRT at sunset.jpg 3.8 m (150″) Mauna Kea Obs., Hawaii 1978
Herschel Obs. Herschel Space Observatory.jpg 3.5 m (138″) 60-672 μm Space, Earth L2 2009-2013 [2]
IRTF Afshin Darian - NASA Infrared Telescope Facility.jpg 3 m (118″) Mauna Kea, Hawaii 1979 [3]
SOFIA SOFIA ED10-0182-01 full.jpg 2.5 m (98.4 in) 747SP; Stratosphere 2010 [4][5]
Hubble Space Telescope HST-SM4.jpeg 2.4 m (94.5 inches) NIR only Space, Earth orbit] 2009-2013
WIRO WyomingInfraRedObservatory.jpg 2.3 m (90.6 in) Jelm mountain, 9656 ft. (2943m) 1977 [6]

Space telescopes only

The mirror of this infrared space telescope is coated with Gold because of its ability to reflect infrared light. Optical telescopes typically have used aluminum or silver.
Infrared observations can see objects hidden in visible light, such as HUDF-JD2 shown.
Name Effective
cm (in)
Year Refs
JWST 650 cm 0.6-28.5 μm 2021 (planned)
Herschel Obs. 350 cm (138″) 60-672 μm 2009 [2]
Hubble WFC3 240 cm 0.2-1.7 μm 2009
Spitzer 85 cm 3-180 μm 2003 [4]
Akari 68.5 cm 2-200 μm 2006 [4]
ISO 60 cm 2.5-240 μm 1996 [4]
IRAS 57 cm 5-100 μm 1983 [4]
NEOSM 50 cm ? Planned [7]
SWAS 44–70 cm 540 - 610 μm 1998
WISE 40 cm 3-25 μm 2010 [4]
MSX 33 cm 4.3-21 μm 1996
IRT 15.2 cm 1.7-118 μm 1985 [8]
Human Eye For comparison ~1 cm 0.39-0.75 μm -

dagger For comparison

See also


  1. ^ Emerson, J.P., Sutherland, W.J., McPherson, A.M., Craig, S.C., Dalton, G.B., Ward, A.K. (2005). The Visible & Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy. The Messenger
  2. ^ a b Amos, Jonathan (14 June 2009). "ESA launches Herschel and Planck space telescopes". BBC. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  3. ^ IRTF homepage
  4. ^ a b c d e f JPL: Herschel Space Observatory: Related Missions
  5. ^ Krabbe, Alfred (March 2007). "SOFIA telescope". Proceedings of SPIE: Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation. Munich, Germany: SPIE — The International Society for Optical Engineering. pp. 276–281. arXiv:astro-ph/0004253. Bibcode:2000SPIE.4014..276K. doi:10.1117/12.389103.
  6. ^ University of Wyoming 2.3-meter Telescope (WIRO)
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Kent, et al. – Galactic structure from the Spacelab infrared telescope (1992).