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In a futuristic world, on a small military spaceship, I want to give it an external camera/telescope-like device that has incredible night vision so it can see the landscape underneath the ship in great detail while flying, or simply survey the surroundings while landed. This device would be used in circumstances of ~0.0001 lux, similar to the lighting of an overcast night without moonlight or any artificial lights nearby.

I’d prefer not to go with traditional gen III/ gen IV+ night vision technology since it is monochrome (I would prefer full color). I had a few ideas, but let me know of your ideas and feedback.

Idea 1 would be a deviation of a dslr camera. Some high end low-light cameras in today’s age show promising results for the future. Maybe sophisticated new sensor technology of the future could produce a full color image with minimal noise in the darkest of night.

Idea 1.5 As an addition to the previous paragraph, using a large camera sensor could also increase the amount of light it receives. A full frame camera takes in twice as much light as a crop sensor. So why not take it to the extreme with a massive sensor? Of course it would need a massive lens to accommodate it...

Idea 2 is to use the full spectrum of light to our advantage. I’m not sure how terrestrial objects interact with each type of wavelength, so I’m not sure which ones would be useful to include (I.e. are there even enough x-rays that penetrate the atmosphere to make a difference?). But picking up infrared light and radio waves could also be used to identify various types in of objects and edges, like how a warm blooded creature emits IR waves. This could make for some trouble with translating these wavelengths into the visible spectrum for viewing though. I’m not sure how that would work.

Final notes: Since this device is to be mounted on a ship, it is only somewhat limited to weight, or volume. Also, since this is part of a military ship, cost is of little concern. I’m excited to hear your ideas and feel free to punch holes in my ideas as well.

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    $\begingroup$ You are asking for either a military grade existing technology or for a potential one. In neither case, had I the knowledge, would share it here. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 6 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ There was recently a video of a military grade night vision camera on reddit. The thing made everything look like it was still day time. I'm sure a quick google will help you find the video. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Sep 6 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ Full color and using infrared light are mutually exclusive. Good luck making a lens which is transparent simultaneously for infrared, visible light, and ultraviolet. (And I shudder to think at the chromatic aberration...) And the major problem with full color vision at low light levels is that in such conditions the dominant source of noise is the scarcity of photons (what is usually called photon shot noise). Of course using a larger sensor will help; it all depends on how large you can afford to make it. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 6 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ It stealth is not a consideration, then you just need a suitably situated Hydrogen Fusion Generator - you'll see everything as clear as daylight. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Sep 6 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ Anyway, @OP: you're in luck, and all you need is 40 bucks and a little credulity ;-) getfpv.com/… (disclaimer: no relation to vendor) $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Sep 6 at 19:13
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Detecting light at 0.0001 lux would make you a very rich man today indeed. This sort of tech is well outside of the public domain.

However, might I suggest for surveying purposes, you emit your own source of light?

Systems like LIDAR take advantage of your ship's ability to fire out infrared radiation, and map the responses in a similar fashion to SONAR tech. You could even go as primitive as a spotlight- it worked for the Germans in WWII.

I get however that in a military situation, emitting infrared is the equivalent of drawing a big red crosshair on your ship. So why not try AI? Deep neural networks (like the one Google just developed) are a solid choice for terrain mapping.

The points you can't see are filled in by the neural net according to how statistically likely a point at position (a,b,c) would be between your two detected points. AI is likely to be far more sophisticated in the future, and if the last 10 years of computer vision development are anything to go by this might well be the future of low-light vision.

Hope it helps!

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