NASA Telescopes and Oscar Awards Have the Same Golden Coating

Monday, 05 March 2018 - 8:23PM
Space
NASA
Monday, 05 March 2018 - 8:23PM
NASA Telescopes and Oscar Awards Have the Same Golden Coating
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NASA
While you were watching The Shape of Water win Best Picture at the recent Academy Awards, or other great sci-fi films like Blade Runner 2049 win Visual Effects/Cinematography, you probably weren't thinking about NASA's giant space telescopes.

But in a way, you were looking at them. Because in fact, the golden coating of each Oscar statuette is the same type of coating being applied to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which will soon be going up into space despite delays pushing the launch past its June 2019 deadline.



On the telescope, the gold is useful because of how well it can reflect infrared light wavelengths, which is necessary for detecting celestial objects like stars and nebulae from long, cosmic distances. And beyond that, gold can absorb energy from radiant heat, which is why it was slapped onto a 32 foot (9.75 meters) cooling tube on the telescope.

The most common way to apply gold is by a process called vapor depositing, where the gold is heated until it turns into a gas and condenses over the object's surface. But that's not reliable, and prone to peeling and cracking - NASA eventually went to a company called Epner Technology, which uses a more advanced gold-coating technique called LaserGold, which uses electricity instead of heat.

NASA has been using this process for at least three decades. And it just so happens that as of 2016, Epner began offering their LaserGold technique to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for use on their Oscar statuettes. The gold on older Oscars tends to flake off as the years pass, but newer ones should last much longer.



So the Academy just missed a chance to give Alfonso Cuarón a space-gold-plated Oscar when he won for directing Gravity in 2013, and the visual effects team behind Interstellar missed their chance as well in 2014 when they won.

But if any space-themed movies win Oscars in the future, the filmmakers will know that the statuette in their hands has a lot in common with NASA's telescopes out in space.
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