NASA's Super-Black Now Even Blacker

NASA's new ultra-absorbent nanomaterial, which is blacker than black thanks to its carbon nanotube coating, is now even blacker. Whether incident light is ultraviolet or far infrared, this new coating takes it all in, and gives (almost) nothing back.

( NASA Develops Super-Black Material )

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. They are positioned vertically on various substrate materials much like a shag rug. The team has grown the nanotubes on silicon, silicon nitride, titanium, and stainless steel, materials commonly used in space-based scientific instruments. (To grow carbon nanotubes, Goddard technologist Stephanie Getty applies a catalyst layer of iron to an underlayer on silicon, titanium, and other materials. She then heats the material in an oven to about 1,382 degrees Fahrenheit. While heating, the material is bathed in carbon-containing feedstock gas.)

The tests indicate that the nanotube material is especially useful for a variety of spaceflight applications where observing in multiple wavelength bands is important to scientific discovery. One such application is stray-light suppression. The tiny gaps between the tubes collect and trap background light to prevent it from reflecting off surfaces and interfering with the light that scientists actually want to measure. Because only a small fraction of light reflects off the coating, the human eye and sensitive detectors see the material as black.

SF fans may recall the competitively absorbent black coating discussed in 'Doc Smith's 1939 novel Gray Lensman:

“Well, we have a black coating now that’s ninety-nine percent absorptive, and I don’t need ports or windows. At that, though, one percent reflection would be enough to give me away at a critical time. How’d it be to put a couple of the boys on that job? Have them put a decimal point after the ninety nine and see how many nines they can tack on behind it?”
(Read more about Smith's black coating)

See this article on last year's comparatively lighter NASA's Blacker-than-Black Nanotube Coating. From NASA via PopSci; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and the sf reference.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/10/2011)

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