Radar involves the transmission of pulses of electromagnetic waves by means of a directional antenna; some of the pulses are reflected by objects that intercept them. The reflections are picked up by a receiver, processed electronically, and converted into visible form by means of a cathode-ray tube. The range of the object is determined by measuring the time it takes for the radar signal to reach the object and return. The object's location with respect to the radar unit is determined from the direction in which the pulse was received. In most radar units the beam of pulses is continuously rotated at a constant speed, or it is scanned (swung back and forth) over a sector, also at a constant rate. The velocity of the object is measured by applying the Doppler principle: if the object is approaching the radar unit, the frequency of the returned signal is greater than the frequency of the transmitted signal; if the object is receding from the radar unit, the returned frequency is less; and if the object is not moving relative to the radar unit, the return signal will have the same frequency as the transmitted signal.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.