The paint used on the Hubble telescope is one of the blackest materials in space. It's there to reduce stray light so the instrument can photograph the best possible images of our solar system and beyond.
In the Antenna wing of the Science Museum in London, a bronze bust of a man sits behind a wall of glass. The face, which belongs to BBC presenter Marty Jopson, isn’t very big—maybe 6 or 7 inches tall. It’s highly textured, and light catches in its rivets and dimples. Aside from the playfully upturned edges of Jopson’s mustache, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this bust. But next to it sits an identical bust that absolutely boggles the mind. It looks like someone has cut a hole in the air in the shape of Jopson’s head, leaving only a gaping, empty blackness.
Lost in last week’s furor over an artist getting the rights to a shade of black was the chemistry that made it possible.
At issue is a material called Vantablack and its derivative S-VIS. Developed by a British company called Surrey Nanosystems, these coatings absorb an incredible amount of light—as much as 99.96% depending on what wavelength you consider. They’re so black that seeing them feels like looking into a hole.