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The Blackest Material in the World Has Some Seeing Red

[It’s] much blacker than a panther swimming in a tarpit.

That’s one description of Vantablack, which is recognized by Guinness World Records as the World’s Darkest Man-made Substance. How dark is it? It’s the darkest material ever measured by the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, UK, reflecting only 0.036% of the light that strikes it. It’s so black, it has artists around the world seeing red. Wait, what?

The British company Surrey NanoSystems unveiled Vantablack as a product for military and astronautical purposes. The material is made of carbon nanotubes that grow on aluminum. Discovered in the 1990s, carbon nanotubes are cylindrical carbon molecules the size of 1/10,000th of a human hair. They grow like a “field of grass,” says Ben Jensen, chief technical officer at Surrey NanoSystems. He explains why they’re so dark:

The tubes are spaced apart. When a light particle hits the material, it gets between the tubes and bounces around, is absorbed and converted to heat. Light goes in, but it can’t get back out.

Vantablack increases the ability of telescopes to see the faintest stars by reducing stray light and improves the performance of instrumentation both in space and on the ground. In military applications, it makes things disappear.

Sounds like Vantablack is the one dark substance everyone can love. That is, except artists who want to use it for paintings, sculptures, velvet Elvis canvases, T-shirts and other arty things. Surrey NanoSystems have given rights to use Vantablack to one artists – sculptor Anish Kapoor of Kapoor Studios UK. Why?

Vantablack is generally not suitable for use in art due to the way in which it’s made. Vantablack S-VIS also requires specialist application to achieve its aesthetic effect. In addition, the coating’s performance beyond the visible spectrum results in it being classified as a dual-use material that is subject to UK Export Control.

Artists are furious at this restriction. Artist Christian Furr speaks for all when he explains the reason why:

All the best artists have had a thing for pure black — Turner, Manet, Goya. This black is like dynamite in the art world. We should be able to use it. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.

Surrey NanoSystems sees Vantablack as a specialized material designed for certain industries and requires special application expertise that only Kapoor has. Artists see is as a mind-blowing non-color that’s the greatest thing since sliced black bread. Ninjas and black dress designers probably have opinions on it too.

Who should decide the dark future of Vantablack?

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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