How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 820

How does a heat lamp work and could it be harmful to the eyes of pets from extended exposure? — DM, Osceola, IA
A heat lamp is much like a normal incandescent lamp, except that the heat lamp's large filament operates at a much lower temperature. Because of this lower temperature, the filament emits relatively little visible light. Instead, it emits mostly invisible infrared light. While you can't see infrared light, you can feel it as heat. Looking at a heat lamp is no more dangerous than looking at the glowing coals in a fireplace. Their thermal radiation heats your skin and the surfaces of your eyes, and is likely to make you uncomfortable enough to turn away before it causes real damage. In contrast, ultraviolet light from a sunlamp can injure your skin and eyes without causing any immediate pain—it's only much later that you feel the sunburn on your skin and corneas. That's why a heat lamp is relatively safe while a sunlamp is not.

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