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Ultra-black Coating Holds Promise for Telescope Applications

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If you, like me, have dabbled with telescope making you will know what a fickle friend light can be. On one hand you want to capture as much as you can (but only from the object, not from nearby lights) and want to reflect or refract it to the point of observation or study. What you most certainly don’t want is stray light to be bounced around inside the telescope so components (except the mirror!) are sprayed as black as possible. Unfortunately black paints tend to be quite susceptible to damage and struggle to cope with the harsh conditions and cold temperatures telescopes are subjected to. A team has recently developed a new atomic-layer deposition method which absorbs 99.3% of light and is durable too.

A team of scientists from the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have recently published a paper in the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology. The paper announces that they have engineered an ultrablack thin-film coating which boasts the remarkable light absorption rate of 99.3%. The technique is tailored for coating aerospace-grade magnesium alloys (not a lot of help for my telescope but there is hope) and the result is a coating that is durable and capable of withstanding harsh environmental conditions.

Of course, this is designed for telescopes operating in the harsh environment of space rather than the cold winter nights of Norfolk in the UK but it will certainly help with professional observatories atop mountains too. Current coatings like vertically aligned carbon nanotubes or black silicon tend to be easily damaged needing repair and leaving contamination that has to be carefully managed.

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Another problem is the often difficult and intricate shapes and curves that the black coatings are to be deposited upon. To overcome these problems, the team explored atomic layer deposition (ALD). Items to be coated are paced in a vacuum chamber and exposed to different gases in sequence which will adhere to the object’s surface in thin layers. It’s a technique not too dissimilar to aluminizing a telescope mirror that is placed inside a vacuum chamber before allowing the aluminum to be deposited on the mirror surface.

The vacuum coating method is far easier to apply to intricate shapes than previous techniques. To build up the layers, the process uses alternating layers of aluminum mixed with titanium carbide and silicon nitride. The two materials work well together to stop nearly all light from reflecting off the coated surface.

During the test phase, the team tested wavelengths of light from violet light at 400 nanometers to near-infrared at 1,000 nanometers and found average absorption levels over 99% across all wavelengths. The coating seems to withstand heat, friction, damp, and extreme changes in temperature well so it is most certainly suited to space instrumentation. The team haven’t given up yet though, they are now working to improve the performance of the material.

Source: Ultrablack coating could make next-gen telescopes even better

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The Contribution of Volcanoes to Venus’s Atmospheric Composition

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One of the many mysteries surrounding Venus, our closest planetary neighbor, is the origin of its atmosphere. The planet is veiled in thick clouds, making it challenging to study its surface and atmospheric composition. However, scientists have long speculated about the role of volcanoes in shaping Venus and adding to its atmosphere. With approximately 85,000 volcanoes on Venus, the idea of active volcanic activity is a topic of interest and debate among researchers.

A recent paper by European researchers explores the question of whether Venus has active volcanism through two approaches. The first approach considers whether Venus can maintain its current atmospheric composition without additional gases from volcanic emissions. The variability of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere over decades has been cited as potential evidence of ongoing volcanism. However, some scientists suggest that other factors, such as surface-atmosphere interactions or atmospheric dynamics, could also contribute to this variability.

The second approach focuses on identifying transient effects in Venus’ atmosphere that could indicate active volcanism. These effects could range from water vapor to particulate matter like volcanic ash. Data on these phenomena has been limited, primarily collected through remote sensing missions. However, upcoming missions to Venus, such as DAVINCI and EnVision, aim to provide more direct measurements and insights into the planet’s atmosphere.

DAVINCI, equipped with spectrometers and high-tech cameras, will gather data in Venus’ lower atmosphere to detect trace volcanic gases. It will also analyze ionic concentrations to indicate volcanic outgassing. EnVision, another mission, will focus on studying gases higher up in the atmosphere using various spectroscopic techniques to unravel mysteries in Venus’ cloud tops.

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While current missions offer valuable tools for studying Venus’ atmosphere, there are limitations to consider. For instance, an infrasound sensor could directly detect volcanic eruptions, but no missions currently include this technology. Despite these challenges, researchers are optimistic about the new insights these missions could bring to the ongoing debate on Venus’ volcanic activity.

With the earliest mission, DAVINCI, set to launch in approximately five years, scientists have time to refine their hypotheses and theories about Venus. The data collected during these missions could finally provide conclusive evidence regarding the presence of active volcanism on Venus, answering a long-standing question about our neighboring planet.

As researchers eagerly await the results from upcoming missions, the scientific community is hopeful that these endeavors will shed light on the enigmatic nature of Venus and its mysterious atmosphere. By leveraging advanced technologies and innovative approaches, scientists are poised to unravel the secrets of Venus and potentially redefine our understanding of planetary volcanism.

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