An SR-71 Blackbird stealth plane in the air.
Soon, super-stealth technology may make stealth fighters old news. (Photo Credit: CC BY/jamesdale10/Fotopedia)

Stealth technology has made the next great leap forward, reports Agence France-Presse. U.S. scientists are significantly closer to being able to produce an “invisibility cloak” that completely masks a large, free-standing three-dimensional object.

Manipulating light, military expectations

According to research posted in the New Journal of Physics, researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have already used the stealth technology to cloak a 7.2-inch cylindrical tube from light in the microwave part of the energy spectrum.

Such instances of bending light for super stealth have caught the attention of the military. The plasmonic meta-materials used achieve a cloaking effect that, while not exactly akin to Harry Potter-type magic that completely fools the naked eye, would thoroughly obscure an object in all directions from radar microwaves, said co-lead researcher Dr. Andrea Alu.

Defining plasmonic meta-materials

According to Alu, plasmonic meta-materials are a combination of metal composites and non-conductive synthetic materials compressed down to nanometer size, which is smaller that the wavelengths of light that strike them. Incoming photos excite currents that cause light waves to scatter. Based upon research, a microwave frequency of 3.1 gigahertz was most ideal. Then a solid return signal cannot be bounced back to the receiver.

“When the scattered fields from the cloak and the object interfere, they cancel each other out, and the overall effect is transparency and invisibility at all angles of observations,” said Alu.

Beyond carpet cloaking

Alu and company’s findings are a major step beyond previous cloaking efforts, where light was bent around two-dimensional objects. It is also more advanced than previous work with three-dimensional objects where microscopic bumps on mirrors or reflectors are hidden from view – a process called “carpet cloaking.”

Alu told Discovery News that warplanes could easily adapt this super stealth cloaking, perhaps in key areas that would be exposed to radar.

“Camouflaging to radar is one important application, a super-stealth device to make objects invisible to radar,” he said. “What we are thinking about is not necessarily cloaking the whole warplane but some hotspots, a part such as the tailplane that you would want to cloak because it reflects most of the energy (from microwave radar).”

(Try to) watch the invisibility cloak

Sources

Agence France-Presse

Discovery News

News 24 South Africa

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