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Surrey NanoSystems via CNET
Surrey NanoSystems via CNET

This Material Is So Dark, You Can't See It

Surrey NanoSystems via CNET
Surrey NanoSystems via CNET

If I were a supervillain, I’d want my name to be Vantablack. Unfortunately, that moniker is already taken, but not by a Hollywood bad guy. No, its owner is even more dark and mysterious: Vantablack is the darkest material ever made.

Created by a British company called Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack absorbs all but 0.035 percent of visible light. It is grown on sheets of aluminum foil and consists of a bunch of microscopic carbon nanotubes so tightly packed together that light particles can’t escape. "Take one of the hairs on your head,” Ben Jensen, the chief technical officer of Surrey NanoSystems, explained to The Guardian. “Split that hair 10,000 times and one of the strands that you take away is the size of the tubes that we grow."

This material is so dark, it removes all texture from the surface to which it is applied. Human eyes don’t really know what to make of it. Here’s how Jensen explains what Vantablack does to crumpled aluminum foil: "You expect to see the hills and all you can see … it's like black, like a hole, like there's nothing there. It just looks so strange."

The visual void Vantablack produces reminds me of the Portable Holes from Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Indeed, Stephen Westland, professor of color science and technology at Leeds University, told The Independent that the material is “almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine."

So, why create something so dark? Vantablack will be used to help calibrate space cameras and telescopes. According to Jensen, “it reduces stray-light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars.” And the military will no doubt want to get its hands on Vantablack for stealth operations, but Surrey NanoSystems is keeping quiet about that. It is also coy about disclosing Vantablack’s price, but says it’s “very expensive.”

(TRY TO) SEE FOR YOURSELF

For the next four months, Vantablack will be on display in London at the Science Museum.

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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