Scientists find extraterrestrial superconductivity in meteorites

James Marshall
March 26, 2020

UC San Diego and New York Brookhaven Laboratory researchers have found superconductivity in meteorites.

"In fact, we are only aware of one previous report of superconductivity in natural materials, in the mineral covellite".

Superconductors are materials that can conduct electrical current without resistance, and they're coveted by researchers who study quantum computers and companies hoping to transfer energy more efficiently. Superconducting particles in cold conditions can influence the formation of the planet, the shape and origin of magnetic fields, the dynamic effects, the movement of charged particles, they say. Graduate student James Wampler finally measured the superconducting change in two meteorite pieces: one from the Mundrabilla meteorite, among the globe's largest meteorites consisting of 22 statistics tons of pieces scattered across Australia's Nullarbor plains, as well as one from a meteorite called GRA 95205.

As per the team's calculations, which also included vibrating sample magnetometry (VSM) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) techniques, both of these meteorites were composed out of minute amounts of extraterrestrial superconductive grains.

Schuller's team isn't just interested in meteorites-they're looking for superconductivity everywhere. The MFMMS technique allows scientists to promptly check with lots of materials to determine whether they are superconductors.

The technique they used was the magnetic field modulated microwave spectroscopy.

The MFMMS methodology starts with the scientist piecing together tiny sample fragments into a cavity which is filled with microwaves along with an oscillating magnetic field right before cooling it. When examples transition from conductors to superconductors, the method they take in microwaves substantially modifications.

Simply put, the fact that these superconductive grains were found in two different space rocks, means that more to these superconducting phase materials are present in space, and their properties could, therefore, have all types of impacts on their extraterrestrial settings.

Mundrabilla Meteorite Piece
For the first time ever scientists find superconducting material on Meteorites

It's a major find - and not only because it's a first in meteorites. The superconducting material found was an alloy classified with indium, lead, and tin, which confirm this material as superconductors previously known to scientists! It's the first proof of superconductivity in space.

"I don't remember the moment when I found it", Wampler told Gizmodo. "Your first reaction is that it's faking you out, it's something else. It's extremely cynical, not laid-up, however being negative makes you double check yourself". Only after that confirmation could they feel confident they'd actually discovered a naturally occurring superconductor from space.

The findings were brought to scientists Yimei Zhu as well as Shaobo Cheng at the Brookhaven National Lab to be properly inspected using electron microscopes.

Still, "this paper is one of the shocking papers that makes you go, whoa, we need to look at things we weren't looking at before", Humayun said.

In the paper, researchers characterize the material phases of the meteorites as alloys of lead, tin and indium, which is the softest non-alkali metal.

It's tough to state exactly how specifically this alloy kinds in space. When it enters Earth's atmosphere, it becomes a meteor or fireball or shooting star. The other one is a rare ureilite meteorite GRA 95205 which was located in Antarctica a quarter-century ago.

For Schuller's team, the discovery of a material already known on Earth doesn't aid in their quest for new superconductors. However, this hypothesis will require more evidence and research.

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