Vantablack achieves its supreme blackness through millions of carbon nanotubes. Each nanotube of the coating is around 20 nanometers in diameter (about 3,500 times smaller than the width of a human hair) and around 14 microns to 50 microns long, according to Surrey NanoSystems. This amounts to about 1 billion nanotubes on a surface area of 0.1 inches square (1 centimeter square).
When light hits this nanotube "forest," it enters the microscopic spaces amid the tubes and is rapidly absorbed as it bounces between them. The almost perfectly black, light-void surface is created because of the material's near-total lack of reflectance.
"To understand this effect, try to visualize walking through a forest in which the trees are around 3 km [1.86 miles] tall instead of the usual 10 to 20 meters [33 to 66 feet]," Surrey NanoSystems researchers explained on the company's website. "It’s easy to imagine just how little light, if any, would reach you."
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According to the researchers, Vantablack's ability to absorb light could increase performance of infrared cameras and sensors, benefit scientific instruments and eventually provide "a unique aesthetic" to luxury products. The material's delicate nanotube structure — which is mostly empty space — can't be touched without disrupting the coating's effect, so current applications are limited.
The coating has made its way into space, however ― where it can be used without being disturbed — on a satellite. ABC reports that Vantablack was used on a European microsatellite that launched in December 2015, as a coating on the satellite's star tracker, a device that measures the positions of stars.
"You can imagine up in space people think of it as being really black and dark, but actually it's incredibly bright up there because the sun's like a huge arc lamp and you've got light reflecting off the Earth and moon. So, the stars are really quite faint," Jensen told ABC. "This material's helping those star-tracker cameras to improve performance and reduce the mass on the satellite, which is really important."
Though Vantablack is not commercially available, Surrey NanoSystems has licensed the product and is pursuing multiple new applications, ranging from science to art. Universities, museums and similar research institutions can also request a sample of Vantablack — "a sealed 'crinkled foil' display unit," according to Surrey NanoSystems.
Original article on Live Science.
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