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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 13:24 GMT
Blacker is the new black
Blackest black (NPL)
What it looks like under the microscope
British scientists say they have produced the "blackest ever" surface developed so far.

The industrial coating for telescopes is one of the darkest and least reflective surfaces on Earth.

By minimising the scatter of stray light, it could improve the vision of telescopes, from amateur instruments to the mighty Hubble.

It's a very interesting surface to look at because it's so black

Dr Richard Brown, NPL
It reflects 10 to 20 times less light than current coatings and has a number of applications in astronomy, such as on star trackers, which help spacecraft navigate.

Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Teddington, West London, say it could also be used on our planet.

Several artists are said to be keen to use the new material because it is incredibly beautiful, "like black velvet".

Ultra-black

Dr Richard Brown, who led the NPL team, said the substance was 25 times blacker than conventional black paint.

"It's the blackest surface commercially available," he told BBC News Online. "It's a very interesting surface to look at because it's so black."

The coating is made of an alloy of nickel and phosphorus pitted with tiny curved craters which absorb light.

At the moment, it is expensive to make. A plate measuring five centimetres across would cost 500. It could eventually become cheaper, however, leading to wider applications.

Amateur astronomy

Ian Morison, an astronomer at Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, said it could improve the performance of telescopes and binoculars.

He told BBC News Online: "If blacker than black [paint] really works well, it could improve the performance of amateur optical telescopes and make some of them cheaper to manufacture."

The breakthrough, reported in New Scientist magazine, is based on existing processes developed in the US and Japan.

NPL says its ultra-black coatings represent the blackest, lowest reflectance surfaces developed so far.

See also:

27 Nov 02 | Science/Nature
11 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
10 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
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