When is black not really black? When you compare it to Vantablack, a material developed by UK-based Surrey Nanosystems. We got our first glimpse of Vantablack in 2014 — although you can’t actually “see” Vantablack, you just see where other stuff isn’t. Now, Surrey Nanosystems has improved Vantablack, making it even more effective at absorbing light across the entire visual spectrum.
When we talk about black in a scientific context, it’s different than your favorite black socks. True black is the absence of light, and Vantablack is as close as we can get to that because it’s extremely good at absorbing the light that hits it. If something doesn’t reflect very much of the light that hits it, we see that as black. Vantablack reflects almost no light. The material is composed of a matrix of carbon nanotubes, and when photons hit the surface, they get caught in the nanotubes and bounce around, losing energy until they are absorbed.
Some sources are reporting this version of Vantablack reflects only 0.035% of light, but that was actually the previous version of the material. The company has not provided an exact reading of how black the new version is, but says it is so dark that it is not detectable by laboratory spectrometers. The videos really drive home how dark the new Vantablack is. The laser and spotlight reflect off of everything else as you’d expect, but they simply vanish when passing over Vantablack. It’s like a hole in the universe.
Vantablack was originally developed to aid in the calibration of sensitive scientific instruments, but its amazing properties have led to a variety of other applications like thermal concentrators in solar power, cold shields in imaging systems, indoor climate control, and even art. A blacker version of Vantablack makes it more desirable for all these applications.
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