Have you ever looked at something so black that you can’t see it? In most cases, say an experiment where you are left alone in an unlit basement of a house, your eyes will eventually adapt after a period of adjustment. Now, however, in a laboratory just outside Farnborough in England, after more than a decade of research and experimentation, scientists have announced the invention of a brand-new super-black material that is so completely dark that it’s like staring into a black hole.
Made out of carbon nanotubes, the material, known as Vantablack, absorbs all but 0.035% of any incidental light which bounces off it, meaning your eyes essentially can’t see it and will never be able to adjust to it. Nature and time will allow you to observe the space around it, and ultimately come to the conclusion that surely something exists inside such a spatial chasm, but you’re darned if you know what it is. According to CNN’s Business World blog, lining up in a polite queue around the block are Vantablack’s first customers, the usual military industrial complex in the defense and space sectors from the UK, Germany, the US, Australia and Japan. Vantablack can be utilized to make a whole variety of stealth craft and weaponry, and the kind of supersensitive telescopes necessary in the ongoing search for stars in the very farthest parts of the universe, as we currently know it.
Surrey NanoSystems, the company that first invented Vantablack, refuses to discuss or give technological details of its discovery. It is rather coy about how it built the material and how it actually works. What we can figure out so far is that Vantablack is essentially a thicket of carbon nanotubes seated on an aluminum bed. The ‘Vanta’ in Vantablack is “vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays.” The Surrey NanoSystems website speaks of their pride in “low-temperature atomic deposition processes,” which essentially points toward CVD (chemical vapor deposition) where dense layers of carbon nanotube are layered out carefully on a bed of aluminum substrate where they are spread out like peanut butter smeared evenly onto a piece of toast.
It’s all a bit too complex for most lay minds. Suffice to say that previous research has proven that vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, packed extremely tight, allow light (photons) to come in, but won’t allow photons out again. Consequently then, carbon nanotubes, usually made of grapheme, are super absorbent to radiation. Radiation/light bounces around, but gets quickly absorbed, so effectively that virtually no radiation escapes.
Indeed, Vantablack is so effective that it absorbs 99.965% of incident radiation, which means that just 0.035% of the radiation that makes contact with Vantablack is reflected. This absorption covers a huge spectrum, from ultraviolet, to visible light, to infrared, and to microwaves. This is what has the U.S. Joint Chiefs-of-Staff licking their lips in anticipation in the Pentagon. Vantablack promises to be perfect material for weaponry, stealth aircraft and a multiplicity of other military uses. Additionally, it’s a natural choice for use inside telescopes and various imaging devices.
At the same time, across the Atlantic, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has also made a black that’s also blacker than black. Currently, instead of super-black materials, the insides of telescopes are painted over with a very black paint called Aeroglaze Z306. No matter who wins the competition, it seems to be inevitable from now on that stealth aircraft, ships, and tanks will come into common usage for the richer military organizations around the world.