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This Manmade Material Is Nearly as Dark as a Black Hole

Vantablack absorbs 99.6 percent of visible light.
Image: Surrey NanoSystems

Vantablack is the new black. British scientists have developed a material that is darker than anything you've seen so far, a material that absorbs 99.96 percent of visual light and is hardly perceptible to the human eye.

Call it a new dark world record.

Surrey NanoSystems bred the "thing" out of wafer-thin carbon nanotubes, each 10,000 times finer than a human hair. Vantablack is so dark that our brain can't even understand what it's perceiving. There are no contours or shapes when you look at it—only an infinite abyss. You'd expect to perceive some sort of outline, but all you can see … is just black, like a hole, as if there were nothing.

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Here, take a look at it again:

Image: Surrey NanoSystems

Of course, this opens up new prospects for what ultra-black materials can be used for. It might be possible to use the material for astronomical research, for telescopes, for infrared scanners and the calibration of cameras. Then, there are potential military uses that I'd prefer to not think about too hard.

With its dimensionless existence (as far as your eyes are concerned), Vantablack could be perfect for camouflaging fighter jets, tanks, or other things the military would prefer its enemies didn't see.

"We are now in negotiations with our first customers in the defense and space sectors, and have already delivered our first orders," Ben Jensen, Surrey NanoSystems' chief technology officer said in a statement. This week, Vantablack will be officially presented at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Although materials that are "darker than black" have been made before, Vantablack has some special features. In an interview with The Independent Stephen Westland, a color science and technology professor at the University of Leeds said it's the darkest thing he's ever seen.

"Many people think black is the absence of light. I totally disagree with that. Unless you are looking at a black hole, nobody has actually seen something which has no light," he said. "These new materials, they are pretty much as black as we can get, almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine."

So, this is probably a lot less spectacular than an actual black hole, but it's the closest we've ever gotten.