Superconductors are materials which when cooled to a critical temperature, conduct electricity without any resistance. Such materials are essential in applications such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines, mass spectrometers to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of molecules and particle accelerators. Superconductivity rarely occurs naturally on Earth as materials on Earth do not exist in their pure phase. However, instead of designing superconductors in a lab, we can find them elsewhere as well.
Superconducting alloys have been discovered in two meteorites. According to James Wampler, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California San Diego in the US, meteorites are promising places to look for unusual materials in general since they are formed under very extreme conditions that can not be replicated on Earth. Meteorites can be formed at high pressure and temperature and have extremely long cooling rates with exposure to high amounts of radiation in space. Scientists previously knew about the superconducting properties of Lead, Tin and Indium, however, it was a surprise to find these elements in the samples of meteorites.
Scientists made this discovery after analyzing 15 meteorites using an ultra-sensitive technique known as the ‘Magnetic Field Modulated Microwave Spectroscopy’ (MFMMS). With this process, scientists were able to detect minute quantities of superconductive material in large samples. Since the process would not pinpoint the location of the superconductive material, scientists would break the sample into grains and re-measure the sample with the MFMMS until the superconducting material was isolated. After that, using microscopy techniques would help them identify traces of Lead, Tin and Indium that accounted for superconductivity in the meteorites.
This discovery is significant as it suggests that superconductivity probably exists elsewhere in the universe as well. Knowing this, the cosmetologists can better understand the structure of space objects, planet formation and even the shape and origin of magnetic fields.