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How Radar Works - Windows to the Universe

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This radar was used in a field project run by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Taiwan.
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Image courtesy of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

How Radar Works

Radar is short for "radio detection and ranging". A transmitter sends pulses of high frequency radio waves. A radar echo shows up on a monitor and shows where the object is located.. A computer measures the time it takes for the signal to reflect off the target and then calculates how far away it is.

One use for radar is in military operations, where it can be used both as an offensive and a defensive weapon. Radar can be used to locate an enemy before an attack, or can warn that an enemy is attacking. Recent advances in stealth technology have proven that radar can be detected and made ineffective.

There are many scientific uses of radar, but the most well-known by the public is weather radar. Weather radar is an important tool in weather forecasting and helps make the forecasts more accurate. Scientists also use radar to study different aspects of the atmosphere, such as wind patterns and air pollution. Radar is also used by space probes such as Magellan to map the surfaces of other planets.

Last modified June 11, 2010 by Becca Hatheway.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF