How do the X-ray machines at the airport detect illegal substances inside the luggage?

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How do the X-ray machines at the airport detect illegal substances inside the luggage?

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The xray scanners, I assume you are referring to are the ones in departures which are for the transport safety side of thjngs. The primary function is to scan for weapons. So as each bag or suitcase passes through the computer attempted to locate anything of a weapon nature, certain laptops and ipads have internal components that are actually detected as firearms by the system (layout of batteries and internals). They will also pick up things such as nerf guns etc.

The ones upon arrival are more operated by that countries customs department.They are use to detect organic matter, organic matter is shown by the xray with a slightly different colour usually an orange type which generally indicates food or drugs. The real method of testing for drugs is with swabs and sniffer dogs. Food on the other hand is checked dependent on the country you are entering.

Fundamentally, they do not. All the hugely expensive security theatre is for profit and politics. The detection rate is minuscule, the false positive rate huge, and the deterrence value near zero. The statistics are kept secret because they are so immensely embarrassing to the companies worldwide who earn billions wasting all our time, and to governments who allow them to tax and cow us using threats and fear.
In Europe, when I checked (2016/17) there were precisely zero detected credible terrorist events at U.K. airports. A few numpties packed fruit and the occasional hunting or sport rifle in the wrong bag, and a few kids forgot they had a pen knife. Those were classed as “positive detections”, but the risk comes from the person, not the device, and there were no actual threats.

In the US, dozens of people get pulled by TSA for shoving a sidearm in a bag, but that’s because the USA is full of idiots and has insanely lax gun laws. Again, not terrorists and those events simply do not warrant the cost or delay or intrusion.

Drugs are almost only caught by accidental search or intelligence led policing. Scanners are nigh on useless.

All it does is allow for a human to look inside bags without actually opening them.

It’s not different than unzipping every bag and rifling through it looking for anything against the rules.

When the human thinks they see something suspicious, they flag that bag for a more thorough search.

X-Ray machines don’t detect anything by themselves. They just make searching hundreds of bags faster than doing it all by hand.

Once past the regular machine, on the way to the plane after check-in, they r checked again in greater detail, that is where most likely they have dogs sniffing stuff.