Naturally Occurring Superconductors Found in Meteorites

Credit: Mariusz.stepien.

Meteorites can contain a wide variety of exotic materials that are very rarely, if at all, observed on Earth. These materials are exciting to discover and compelling to study because they offer insight into solar system processes and conditions that would not be possible with observations made solely on rock samples from Earth. Many of these materials formed at the beginning of the solar system and preserve evidence of the extreme environments in which they formed. Numerous studies are devoted to locating, characterizing, and interpreting the significance of these materials that are brought to Earth in meteorites.

A recent study led by James Wampler at the University of California San Diego sought to identify materials in meteorites that showed superconductive properties. A superconductor is a material that can conduct electricity with little to no resistance, especially in very cold environments. In industry, superconductors are typically associated with incredibly powerful electromagnets that are used in technologies like medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines that you might find in a hospital, but naturally occurring superconductors are expected to be extremely unusual. In the context of solar system processes, superconductors could affect the way in which planets form, which makes it important to quantify and characterize their occurrences within meteoritic material. In this study, 15 meteorites were subjected to a series of analyses at temperatures that reached below -250oC in an effort to detect superconductive material within the meteorites. Two of the samples showed evidence that they contain superconductors, associated with minute-sized metallic phases. This is the first discovery of its kind, and the implication that superconductors can form in natural environments within the solar system might have significance for how planetary magnetic fields develop. Magnetic fields, like the one surrounding Earth, protect life from damaging solar radiation. READ MORE