(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

For many years, U.S. troops have hunted our nation's enemies under the blanket of complete darkness, scoring some impressive kills due, in part, to our outstanding ability to see at night — just ask Osama bin Laden.

Oh, wait. You can't.

Today, you can head to a tactical store and pick up a relatively inexpensive set of NVGs for a few hundred bucks. Although many models seem to have issues with depth-of-field, cheaper night optics can still get you from A to B on a somewhat clear night.


Although this impressive piece of tech can be used by anybody, not many people look into how this technology works or how it came to be. Let's fix that.

1. German origins

Despite the fact that we defeated the Germans in WWII, they can still claim credit over many important technological advancements. For example, they manufactured the first nighttime image enhancer. The concept was worked on as early as 1935 but wasn't put in the hands of German soldiers until 1939.

However, only the most highly trained soldiers were issued this new technology to employ in night attacks. By the end of the war, Hitler's army had also equipped nearly 50 Panther tanks with this tech. These tanks saw combat on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

The "Vampir" man-portable night vision system.

2. Why green?

When you look into a set of NVGs, you'll immediately notice the green display. This isn't some arbitrary color choice on the part of the manufacturer — your eyes are more sensitive to that particular color.

When we say "sensitive," we're not referring to your current emotional status. It means our eyes detect this color naturally, making it easier to pick out shapes in the otherwise dark. In short, it's easy on the eyes.

As seen through a night-vision device, an Army MH-47 Chinook helicopter prepares to land as Army Special Forces soldiers participate in a night infiltration and exfiltration exercise.

(Photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBride)

3. How NVGs work

The device detects low levels of light and amplifies them. You want a little more of a breakdown? Okay, let's get scientific.

When dim light enters the NVGs, it hits an internal layer, called the "photocathode," which releases electrons.
These electrons then hit a second layer called a "micro-channel plate," where they get multiplied before hitting the third layer, called the phosphor screen.

After passing through that layer, the electrons are converted back into light. The more electrons the device produces, the higher the image quality. Check out the video below for a full breakdown.

4. You can build your own set at home

Although high-quality NVGs require some real ingenuity and tech to produce, Superhero Armory built a rudimentary set using a pair of LCD sunglasses, a small night-vision camera, and some LED lights.

Don't believe us? Watch the video for yourself.