NASA's nanotube paint is ten times blacker than Darth Vader's armpit

Angsty NASA scientists have developed a new type of paint from carbon nanotubes that's an order of magnitude blacker than the blackest black you can possibly imagine. My mood in the mornings has nothing on this.

NASA cares about black paint because they use it to coat the insides of their telescopes to keep stray reflections from getting to the sensors and making the data all fuzzy. Until now, they've been using some regular old very black paint, but this new material is an impressive ten times blacker. This infra-blackness is possible thanks to a forest of carbon nanotubes, bajillions of which are clustered together vertically 'like a shag rug.' When photons hit the nanotube forest, they get trapped in the tiny gaps between the tubes, and 99.5% of them don't make it out again, which is what makes the material look so black.

So, what does a material that absorbs 99.5% of the light that hits it actually mean in practice? Well, if you covered your car with this stuff, the nanotubes would completely absorb all of the reflected light and shadows that make things look three dimensional, and you'd just see a two dimensional and vaguely car-shaped void in reality, like a black hole. Douglas Adams did a pretty good job explaining it in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

Zaphod's attention however was elsewhere. His attention was riveted on the ship standing next to Hotblack Desiato's limo. His mouths hung open.

"That," he said, "that ... is really bad for the eyes ..."

Ford looked. He too stood astonished.

It was a ship of classic, simple design, like a flattened salmon, twenty yards long, very clean, very sleek. There was just one remarkable thing about it.

"It's so ... black!" said Ford Prefect, "you can hardly make out its shape ... light just seems to fall into it!"

Zaphod said nothing. He had simply fallen in love.

The blackness of it was so extreme that it was almost impossible to tell how close you were standing to it.

"Your eyes just slide off it ..." said Ford in wonder. It was an emotional moment.

It's worth mentioning that this paint isn't quite as black as a material that a group from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute came up with in 2008, but NASA's stuff is much more robust and actually works as a durable paint, even in space.

Watch NASA's attempt to make this news hip on video, just below.


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