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Current Affairs

Superconductor material inside meteorite

Date: 24 March 2020 Tags: Particle Physics

Issue

Scientists have detected trace amounts of superconducting material inside one of the world’s largest meteorites, according to a new study.

 

Background

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.

 

Details

  • The superconductor inside the Australian meteorite is a known material, but the discovery itself comes as a shock.

  • The scientists used a technique called magnetic field modulated microwave spectroscopy (MFMMS). The MFMMS method starts with scientists putting tiny sample fragments into a cavity filled with microwaves and an oscillating magnetic field and then cooling it.

  • The MFMMS method allows scientists to quickly scan through lots of materials to determine whether or not they are superconductors.

  • The team recorded the superconducting transition in two meteorite fragments: one from the Mundrabilla meteorite, one of the world’s largest meteorites comprising 22 metric tons of pieces scattered across Australia’s Nullarbor plains, and one from a meteorite called GRA 95205

  • The superconducting material was an alloy of indium, lead, and tin, a material previously known as a superconductor to scientists. It’s the first evidence of superconductivity in space.

  • These meteorites’ components would have undergone chemical changes like heating and recrystallization during solar system formation, obscuring the environment their materials first formed in. 

  • While this alloy isn’t a superconductor at room temperature on Earth, there are locations of space colder than the 5-degrees-Kelvin at which it becomes a superconductor.

  • If these alloys took on superconducting properties in the cold of space, perhaps they could affect the magnetic fields surrounding them, producing phenomena potentially visible to telescopes on Earth.

  • The research opens the door on an entire field of inquiry to look at rare metals like these indium-tin-lead alloys not known from meteorites previously.