Home Physics Superconducting Material Found in Meteorites For The First Time

Superconducting Material Found in Meteorites For The First Time

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Superconducting Material Found in Meteorites For The First Time
Main mass of Mundrabilla meteorite, 12.4 tonnes, Western Australia Museum (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome back, guys. So today we have something more interesting than before and less interesting than tomorrow’s. When it comes to space,  scientists always bring us surprises with their inventions and discoveries.

Naturally occurring superconducting materials were found in extraterrestrial objects for the first time. Scientists found superconductive grains embedded inside two distinct meteorites that crash-landed on Earth.

Meteorites are not only debris but much more. This recent discovery proves it. Recent probing into details has revealed that meteorite-borne deliveries of possible extraterrestrial proteins, minerals we’ve never encountered, and materials older than the Solar System itself. This is nothing like we’ve seen before.

So what is superconducting? Superconducting is the set of physical properties that ensures ‘perfect’ electrical conductivity in material, meaning all electrical resistance inside the material vanishes, among other effects. Superconducting materials can transport electrons with no resistance, and hence release no heat, sound, or other energy forms.

This is such a great phenomenon that is rare, at least on our planet .

We’ve already seen so many wonderful events that take place. With extreme environments in space creating exotic material phases not seen on Earth, via astronomical events that can unleash incredibly high temperatures and extremely high amounts of pressure it could be completely different out there.

Led by researchers from UC San Diego, scientists investigated fragments from 15 different meteorites, using a technique called magnetic field modulated microwave spectroscopy to detect traces of superconductivity inside the samples.

They got two hits: one, in an iron meteorite called Mundrabilla, found in Australia in 1911 and is one of the largest meteorites to be found; the second, a rare ureilite meteorite called GRA 95205, located in Antarctica about 25 years ago.

The research helped us find that both of these space rocks contain minute amounts of extraterrestrial superconductive grains. It included using vibrating sample magnetometry (VSM) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) methods.

“These naturally occurring superconducting materials even though are unusual they could be superconducting in extraterrestrial environments,” says physicist and nanoscientist James Wampler.

“These measurements and analysis identified the likely phases as alloys of lead, indium, and tin.”

The authors explained in their paper that the simplest superconducting mineral, lead, is only rarely found naturally in its native form, and, to our knowledge, there are no previous reports of natural lead samples superconducting.

The fact that these superconducting grains were discovered in two separate meteorites – and from such a small sampler overall of space rocks – means more of these superconducting phase materials are likely to exist in astronomical environments, and their superconducting properties could in turn have all manner of effects on their extraterrestrial surroundings.

Just how substantial these phenomena would end up being is anybody’s guess, but there are lots of new questions to ask, and now’s the time to get wondering.

The findings are reported in PNAS.

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