Remote sensing involves the use of aerial photographs, satellite images, and radar to detect record and measure far away objects. This is currently done by sensing and recording reflected or emitted electromagnetic radiant energy and transferring wavelengths in the form of numeric data to a sensor. The term was coined in the 1970's though features on the earth's surface were remotely sensed much earlier than this time.

The following is a definition from the Manual of Remote Sensing:
  • In the broadest sense, the measurement or acquisition of information of some property of an object or phenomenon, by a recording device that is not in physical or intimate contact with the object or phenomenon under study; e.g., the utilization at a distance (as from aircraft, spacecraft, or ship) of any device and its attendant display for gathering information pertinent to the environment, such as measurements of force fields, electromagnetic radiation, or acoustic energy. The technique employs such devices as the camera, lasers, and radio frequency receivers, radar systems, sonar, seismographs, gravimeters, magnetometers, and scintillation counters.
  • The practice of data collection in the wavelengths from ultraviolet to radio regions. This restricted sense is the practical outgrowth from airborne photography. Sense (1) is preferred and thus includes regions of the EM spectrum as well as techniques traditionally considered as belonging to conventional geophysics.

Source: Manual of Remote Sensing, 3rd Ed. New York : Wiley, c1998.