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Is it possible to create a head-mounted optical device that allows the user to see the wind, by means of thermal imaging / infrared detection, variations in the light's refractive index, or something similar?

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2 Answers 2

Option 1: glasses

All glasses do is refract incoming light in order to change the focus, so that the user sees things sharp that were otherwise fuzzy; or they change polarisation or possibly light intensity, such as with sun-glasses. However, wind is moving air, and air is invisible. No refraction or other property of glass can change this.

Option 2: Head-mounted device

Most methods to measure wind are active, meaning that the sensor measured a reflected electromagnetic source it emitted a short time ago. That wouldn't do for you, because (1) you don't want to walk around with a laser on your head (2) you wouldn't see the refracted light.

Option 3: Fully passive

Satellites measure wind by... looking at ocean waves. So if you find yourself at sea, look at the waves. On land, look at leaves in trees moving, smoke not rising vertically, etc. The Beaufort scale will tell you how to translate this into a wind speed. So in reality, you can see the wind without any device — but you probably already know this ;-).

I expect none of those really answers what you are looking for, so the answer is still no.

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This answer says that ordinary glasses with refractive lenses cannot see the wind, which is self-evident. Probably, the question requires a broader definition of "glasses" as some kind of conceivable technological "eyewear". Is there a way to detect surrounding wind in real-time and visualize it in a way that could be integrated into some virtual-reality eyewear which superimposes the information onto the direct field of view. :) –  Kaz Nov 16 '12 at 23:39
I changed "glasses" for: "head-mounted optical device" in the question. Thanks –  Alain Jacomet Forte Nov 16 '12 at 23:43
@Kaz While virtual reality is an appealing option, I'm looking for a fundamentally optical solution that helps visualizaing the wind accurately instead of a overlayed computation/simulation (except in the case that this computation/simulation can be made extremely precise) –  Alain Jacomet Forte Nov 16 '12 at 23:47

Not quite as simple as a pair of glasses - but it is possible to see the wind with (relatively) simple standard optics. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schlieren_photography

You can even try it yourself Schlieren- HowTo

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Very good resource, thank you. –  Alain Jacomet Forte Nov 16 '12 at 23:41
Hm, didn't know about that one. But as I understand it it would require an active light source /and/ a mirror. The former works with a head-mounted device, but the mirror is more difficult to achieve. –  gerrit Nov 16 '12 at 23:46
@gerrit - yes but it only needs "regular" optics, no computers/lasers/active devices –  Martin Beckett Nov 16 '12 at 23:52
After looking into the subject, it certainly is very interesting and may be feasable given certain conditions, but I'm still curious about using thermal imaging to see different air temperatures. Would this be possible ? –  Alain Jacomet Forte Nov 20 '12 at 15:39
@AlainJacomet - tricky, the problem is that the temperature differences are very small (unless this is a supersonic shockwave) and the IR absorption of air is very low - so there is very little power in the signal AND you tend to see straight through it. –  Martin Beckett Nov 20 '12 at 16:36

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