For the first time, scientists have discovered trace amounts of superconducting materials in extraterrestrial objects. According to a new study, these naturally occurring superconducting materials were found embedded inside two distinct meteorites that crash-landed on Earth.
Superconductors are important for humans as the material can conduct electrical current without resistance. The material ensures ‘perfect’ conductivity and finds use in a lot of areas. Even though the superconductor inside the Australian meteorite is a known material, its discovery in space debris comes as a shock.
Meteorites have been known to deliver minerals to Earth that we have never seen before as well as materials that are older than our Solar System itself. However, this is the first time meteorites crash-landed on Earth with embedded superconductive grains.
Researchers from UC San Diego investigated fragments from 15 different meteorites using magnetic field modulated microwave spectroscopy to detect traces of superconductivity inside samples. They found one in an iron meteorite Mundrabilla— one of the largest meteorites ever found that was discovered in Australia in 1911. The other one is a rare ureilite meteorite GRA 95205 which was located in Antarctica a quarter-century ago.
The study is published in the PNAS or Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. According to the research, measurements and analysis identified alloys of lead, indium, and tin in the meteorite sample which were not previously found in space debris.
“Even 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 authors explain in their paper.
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The kind of materials found in these meteorites suggests that these were formed in extreme conditions that might have formed other superconducting materials as well. Even though the alloys found in the samples do not act as superconductors at room temperature on Earth but there are locations of space colder than the 5-degrees-Kelvin at which these become a superconductor.
Researchers say that these superconductive alloys could affect the magnetic fields surrounding them in the cold space, producing phenomena potentially visible to telescopes on Earth. However, this hypothesis will require more evidence and research.
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