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New Black From NASA Uses Nanotubes

A new black coating from NASA is super-absorptive; it's about ten times better than black paint ordinarily used by instrument designers. Inappropriately reflected light can ruin celestial photography; they need the blackest of blacks to get the best measurements.


( Multi-walled carbon nanotubes are tiny hollow tubes made of pure carbon )

Currently, instrument developers apply black paint to baffles and other components to reduce stray light. Because reflectance tests have shown the coating to be more effective than paint, instrument developers could grow the carbon nanotubes on the components themselves, thereby simplifying instrument designs because fewer baffles would be required.

In addition to simplifying instrument design, the technology would allow scientists to gather hard-to-obtain measurements because of limitations in existing light-suppression techniques or to gather information about objects in high-contrast areas, including planets in orbit around other stars, Hagopian said.

Science fiction writers have been working with the idea of black coatings that are super-efficient; for example, the Tycho monolith from Arthur C. Clarke's 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey:

"Now the sluggish sun had lifted itself above the edge of the crater, and its rays were pouring almost broadside pon the eastern face of the block. yet it seemed to absorb every particle of light as if it had never been. Floyd decided to try a simple experiment; he stood between the monolith and the sun, and looked for his own shadow on the smooth black sheet. There was no trace of it. At least ten kilowatts of raw heat must be falling on the slab.

Readers may also recall the absolute black from Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Douglas Adams, 1980) and fuligin from Gene Wolfe's 1980 classic Shadow & Claw.

Update 10-Nov-2011: Here's an early reference to the idea of a "blacker than black" coating for materials; see the black coating from E.E. 'Doc Smith's 1939 novel Gray Lensman. Thanks to Winchell Chung of Project Rho for the tip on this item. End update.

Take a look at some of these other efforts to create a real-world blacker-than-black material:

Via Physorg; thanks to Daniel Durvin for the tip and the reference.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/5/2010)

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