From Stone Age to Space Age: Bone pigment helps probe

February 12, 2014
A picture taken on October 12, 2012 in Vallon-Pont-d'Arc of a prototype of painting of the facsimile of the Chauvet cave, which contains some of the earliest known cave paintings

A pigment once daubed on cave walls by prehistoric Man will help shield an unmanned probe that will fly close to the Sun, the European Space Agency (ESA) said Wednesday.

Black calcium phosphate is being applied to the heatshield of Solar Orbiter, a Sun-monitoring probe due for launch in 2017, to help protect it from searing temperatures.

The compound is made from charcoal from burnt bones, the same substance used in making the Chauvet Cave paintings in southern France 30,000 years ago, ESA said.

Solar Orbiter will venture as close as 42 million kilometres (26.25 million miles) to the Sun, where temperatures reach as high as 520 degrees Celsius (968 degrees Fahrenheit).

To survive, it has to operate behind a multi-layered titanium heatshield, whose colour must remain unchanged throughout the mission.

A change in the shield's "thermo-optical" properties—the way it reflects or absorbs solar radiation—could cook the probe's sensitive instruments.

Burnt bone charcoal is the answer, as its jet-black colour is highly stable, the agency said.

Tests have exposed it to everything from sunlight and ultraviolet radiation to the "tape pull" test—applying then pulling off adhesive tape to see if anything comes with it, ESA said in a statement.

"Char bone" is used in everyday life, from the production of fertilisers to purifying white sugar and filtering heavy metals from water.

Explore further: Ariane rocket to hoist Europe-Japan Mercury mission

Related Stories

'Dark energy' targeted in European space mission

October 4, 2011

So-called dark energy, believed to play a role in the accelerated expansion of the Universe, will be studied in a major science mission to be launched later this decade, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Tuesday.

ESA To Collaborate with NASA on Solar Science Mission

October 6, 2011

On October 4, 2011, the European Space Agency announced it's two next science missions, including Solar Orbiter, a spacecraft geared to study the powerful influence of the sun. Solar Orbiter will be an ESA-led mission, with ...

UK company to build Sun orbiter

April 27, 2012

The European Space Agency said on Friday it had awarded a 300-million-euro ($400 million) contract to a British technology firm to build a satellite to examine the Sun from closer up than any before it.

Recommended for you

Findings illuminate animal evolution in protein function

July 27, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond researchers recently teamed up to explore the inner workings of cells and shed light on the 400–600 million years of evolution between humans and early animals ...

New polymer able to store energy at higher temperatures

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University has created a new polymer that is able to store energy at higher temperatures than conventional polymers without breaking down. In their paper published ...

How to look for a few good catalysts

July 30, 2015

Two key physical phenomena take place at the surfaces of materials: catalysis and wetting. A catalyst enhances the rate of chemical reactions; wetting refers to how liquids spread across a surface.

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

July 29, 2015

ETH researchers have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibers. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water resistant.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.