Scientists have found evidence for superconducting materials in meteorites, raising the prospect of finding a material that’s a superconductor at room temperature.
Superconductors are materials that can conduct electricity with no resistance. This means they don’t give off any heat or other energy, but most only work at temperatures approaching absolute zero – which is zero Kelvin.
As reported by Science Magazine, however, scientists presented findings at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society yesterday, March 6, that show evidence for superconductivity in meteorites. The importance of this is that meteorites often form in extreme temperatures.
In their experiment, the team the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) applied a magnetic field to more than a dozen meteorite samples. When cooled sufficiently, the magnetic field was found to kickstart superconductivity in two of the samples – one iron meteorite, the Mundrabilla meteorite found in Australia in 1911, and another composed mostly of carbon, Graves Nunataks, found in Antarctica in 1995.
The superconducting materials that were found were not new, being composed of an alloy of indium and tin, and another of indium, tin, and maybe lead. They both required temperatures of about 5 Kelvin to work.
But it suggests superconductivity could be pretty common in the universe, and it raises the prospect that there might be some unusual materials that we have not encountered yet that are superconductors at higher temperatures.
“If this is in meteorites, it’s everywhere,” James Wampler, a graduate student from UCSD who presented the findings, told Science Magazine.
Previous studies have failed to find superconductivity in meteorites, so this discovery is particularly exciting. As meteorites form in high temperature and pressure conditions that we can’t replicate on Earth, they might just represent an excellent place to look for unknown materials.
“To our knowledge, these samples are the first identification of extraterrestrial superconducting phases,” the team wrote in a synopsis of their research. “They are particularly significant because these materials could be superconducting in extraterrestrial environments.”
A room temperature superconductor would be a huge boon for physicists. Such a material would have a number of uses, including lossless electrical transmission, levitating trains, faster computers, and much more. Hopefully, there could be some more exciting discoveries on the horizon.
(H/T: Science Magazine)