Klingons take note - nanotubes could allow spaceships to disappear
By Ben Coxworth
November 23, 2011
Although Klingon-style disappearing spaceships may not be in our neighborhood any time soon, the technology that could allow a spaceship to vanish from sight may be here now. Scientists from the University of Michigan have successfully made a three-dimensional etched silicon image of a tank appear as a featureless black void, that completely blended in with the backdrop surrounding it. The secret: good ol' carbon nanotubes.
When we see an object, it's because it scatters and reflects light that strikes it - the more that an object obstructs incoming light, the more visible that object is. It turns out that a coating of low-density aligned carbon nanotubes, however, allows light to pass into it with little more resistance than that light experiences when moving through the air. This means little of the light is scattered or reflected, with most of it instead being essentially "absorbed."
It's no wonder that carbon nanotube carpeting is considered to be the world's darkest substance, and has found its way into NASA telescopes, among other applications where stray light needs to be kept to a minimum.
When the unadorned silicon tank relief was first illuminated with white light, all of its contours were plainly visible. After a forest of carbon nanotubes was grown on it, however, it and the silicon surface around it showed up as nothing but a uniform field of black.
While it wouldn't necessarily work in all situations, the technique could be used to allow objects - such as Klingon Birds of Prey, or more likely human military vehicles - to vanish against dark backgrounds.