Instrument developers apply black paint to baffles and other components to help prevent stray light from ricocheting off surfaces. However, black paints absorb only 90 percent of the light that strikes it. A new super-dark material developed by a team of engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center absorbs about 99 percent of the visible, ultraviolet, infrared, and far-infrared light that strikes it, making it a good candidate to be used in imaging equipment.
It is called Vantablack and it is quite different than other blacks: you cannot tell if it is even there! VANTA is really an acronym that stands for Vertically Aligned (carbon) Nano Tube Array. The nanotech-based coating is a thin layer of multi-walled carbon nanotubes, tiny hollow tubes made of pure carbon about 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair. Vantablack absorbs 99.965% of the visible light that falls upon it. The result is that it looks weird, “like a [black] hole, like there’s nothing there.”
NASA is already considering using Vantablack in its infrared-sensing instruments since it is better at radiating heat away from the instruments. If these instruments are not cold, thermal heat (generated by the instrument and observatory) will swamp the faint infrared they are designed to collect (NOISE). The cooler the instrument can be, the more sensitive they will be to faint far-infrared signals emanating from objects in the very distant universe.
One day, that black rectangular empty space you see on your shelf may be your latest all-black body camera.