When the folks at the National Physical Laboratory set out to manufacture the blackest black in the universe - something rivaled only by an actual black hole - nobody fully understood the implications. Today, the marvel that is Vantablack is finally coming to light. Technically, though, it’s actually absorbing light at a rate that was previously thought to be impossible.
So, what is Vantablack? For starters, it’s the world’s blackest material, doing the work of crazy space substances right here on Earth. Trademarked by Surrey NanoSystems Limited, this laboratory-grown substance isn’t exactly a color. It is a light-absorber so powerful that it actually creates darkness and distortion across everything it touches. The real-life applications for such a material are endless and pretty fantastical - some say it can even make airplanes disappear.
What we do know about this science fiction-esque substance is that it is comprised of vertically aligned nanotube arrays that bounce light particles off of one another until the light is swallowed up and completely disappears. And when Vantablack is applied to a three dimensional object, the object flattens to appear two dimensional, losing all of its features. We also know that this sort of substance could enhance our view of the solar system, allowing us to see planets and stars that we never even knew existed. Here’s a look at the many shades of Vantablack, and how this alien substance will probably (definitely) impact our planet’s future.
The latest version of Vantablack is immeasurably dark. And it is able to achieve such an effect with the help of billions of intricately woven carbon nanotubes that are literally grown on an area approximately the size of one square centimeter. As such a seamlessly constructed material made of utter darkness, Vantablack isn't even considered a color. Rather, this shade of black is an abstract absence of color, comparable only to materials seen in outer space.
There are no smoke screens or funny camera angles, and no tricks hidden up any sleeves when it comes to the craftiness of Vantablack. It really does make things appear to have disappeared. But it doesn’t exactly make them invisible. Picture it more like when you're watching a television show and someone’s face was blacked out in the frame. Anything that Vantablack is applied to is pretty much absorbed by the substance, effectively making it look 2-dimensional to the human eye, as all of the surface details are distorted beyond recognition.
Thanks to Vantablack’s light-absorbing properties, the substance alters human perception of reality in a number of ways. First, staring at the exterior of a Vantablack coated surface makes it appear as though you are looking into a 2-dimensional abyss, like something you might witness in a cartoon, except it's real life. Or if you were to, say, step inside of a room that was entirely covered in Vantablack, it would result in the perception of a completely warped reality. The floor would be gone, objects in the room would seem to be the wrong size, and, like a house of mirrors, all of it would just be an optical illusion; however, perception is reality.
For the purpose of trying to measure the blackness of an immeasurable substance, scientists estimate that the newest Vantablack’s value of light absorption is close to 99.999 %. In other words, this substance that was designed in the image of cosmic black holes effectively imitates them by absorbing all light. So, if you were to shine a laser over Vantablack 2.0, the light would get completely sucked in and then disappear. The initial version of Vantablack notably absorbed only 99.96% of light.