A Brief History of Seeing in the Dark…Part 1

Since the dawn of time, to man darkness has meant danger.  Predators, enemies and hazardous terrain pose an obvious threat.  If you wanted to find your way around in the dark you needed fire.  The human eye has limited capacity to function in low light but can be trained and improved.  The human eye has two types of cells, cone and rod.  Cone cells enable us to see in good light and differentiate colour and rod cells help us see in bad light and detect motion.

Your eyes will adapt to darker conditions in about ten minute.  If you look slightly to the side (5-10 degrees) of an object it will appear clearer for about 10 seconds, then you can blink and scan your eyes from side to side to keep it in view.

The first steps to developing night vision technology as we know it today came about following the invention of the cathode ray tube in 1895 by Ferdinand Braun, professor of physics at the University of Strasbourg.  By the early thirties the UK, Netherlands, Germany and the US were all working on producing the first effective night vision device or electro-optical converter.

It was the out brake of war in 1939 that was the catalyst for major technological advances in night vision equipment.  By the middle of WWII both the Russians and the Germans had developed “Black Search Lights”.  These were infra red devices and scopes adapted for use on ground assault rifles, anti tank guns and panther tanks with ranges of up to 600 metres.  Rifles where fitted with IR devices attached under the barrel about the size of a dinner plate, a battery pack was carried on the soldiers back the size of a breeze block.  IR devises fitted on tanks and all terrian vehicles could be used as navigation beacons or as “search lights” for ground troops equipped with night vision weapon scopes.  These have become known as Generation 0 devices.

In part 2 we will look at developments through the period of the war in Vietnam and the Cold War.  We will look at the first night vision devices using ambient light amplification and its deployment in anti-terrorism activities by British forces.

These days anyone can get their hands on top quality night vision equipment.  The Luna Optics range is proving very popular for both professional and leisure purposes e.g. nature enthusiasts, land owners and security operatives.  We have the full range available with prices from under £200.