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Say we have a planet, similar to Earth, which has deposits of a naturally occuring superconductor. Perhaps have it about as common as deposits of gold - Moderately rare, but occurs in veins as opposed to being "evenly" spread out. Similar assumptions and comparisons can be made about its presence in the mantle and core.

The exact nature of this superconductor is largely irrelevant, except it is a superconductor in the conditions it is found in, barring particularly extreme conditions.Additionally, I am not particularly concerned with how the superconducting material formed.

Would having such superconducting material in a planet cause anything to be different than having any other rare or oddball material?

Update - I'm looking more for the geological/natural changes, not necessarily changes based on how technology would be different.

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I imagine it might make the planet cooler in the core. Superconductors move heat and would provide a way for deep heat to move to the surface. Less magnetic field, less tectonic movement, more solar radiation. That’s pure hypothesis based of theoretical specific heat properties of superconductor materials. We’ve never actually found one to test.

Charge can remain stable in a superconductor for years (theory estimates millennia). So a superconductor surrounded by insulating material might spontaneously discharge if the insulation wears away. That could result in spontaneous explosions... methane pockets or some such (although that needs oxygen). At very least, mining the stuff could be risky.

We know birds have evolved to carry bits of iron in their beaks (Google “iron in bird beaks” for details). We suspect this plays a role in navigation. If a room-temp superconductor available, animals might adapt to carry it instead, perhaps to better perceive the weakened magnetic field (as theorized above).

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The obvious answer to this is that it would make our power grids more efficient.

Such a superconductor would be an obvious natural replacement for copper in our electrical circuits. After the Maxwell equations are first discovered on such a world, electrical generation would still be in its infancy, but being able to use a naturally occurring superconductor in generator wiring (for example) may make those generators more efficient because they would heat up (through resistance in the wires) even less than they do now, and that means more electricity is available for the circuit.

In modern (?) sound systems, gold is often used for contacts and in audio cables because the superior conductivity of gold over copper means that you get a clearer signal transmitted. So, good quality sound may have appeared much earlier, and if there was enough of the material for industrial power transmission and distribution, it would mean that we get a lot more power into homes for less generation. In the end, the difference may only be marginal but in scalable applications like maglev trains, this may make them viable at an earlier stage of development.

It's also possible that naturally occurring superconductors may speed up nuclear research, particularly in the space of fusion reactions given that superconducters are an integral component of the magnetic containment systems used in fusion research today.

If we are getting really speculative, it could have also revolutionised the work that Nicola Tesla was doing in wireless power transmission; even if wireless transmission proved inefficient by comparison to superconductor wires, having the power feed into a superconducting circuit would also mean that the amount of power that had to be received would have been lower for the same result, making it more viable as well.

Computers may have benefited also from being able to feed a proportionally lower volume of current into the chip because one doesn't have to account for resistance in feeding the circuit. This may have made it possible for Moore's Law to work in (say) 12 months instead of 18, at least for a time.

Of course, all this is dependent on the usefulness of the material in terms of flexibility, malleability et al. The one advantage of copper in that regard is its ability to withstand being bent and flexed; a brittle superconductor may not be as useful in things like power cords, so the physical attributes of the superconductor would also play a significant factor in its relative usefulness.

That said, a naturally occurring, flexible room temperature superconductor available in quantities similar to copper would have been extremely useful in a post-Maxwellian era.

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    $\begingroup$ Another big advantage of copper is that there's a lot of it, easily mined from the surface. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 1 '18 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ Computers wouldn't benefit that much from a super conductor, as the majority of their energy use comes from using semi conductors, the resistance of their wiring is relatively is insignificant $\endgroup$ – Garret Gang Apr 2 '18 at 13:47
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Lightning

A superconductor at the surface would draw lightning. Lightning will try to follow the path of least resistance and the superconductor portion of the path will have zero resistance. This isn't an absolute. The rest of the path matters as well. Lightning might prefer to hit a wet tree at the top of a hill over a superconductor at the bottom. But if there were a superconductor and a bush next to it, the lightning will probably hit the superconductor over the bush.

Source matters

I know that you said that you don't really care about formation, but you should. The big question is if the superconductor can be synthesized. Because it would be hard for us to make a maglev track out of gold, but making it out of a particular alloy of common materials would be simple. I.e. if an aluminum-iron alloy were superconducting when some common element were added, then superconductor-based technology could be everywhere. If it were an element as rare as gold, then that wouldn't work. There'd still be a mix of superconductor and copper wiring.

In medieval society, the alchemists might search for a way to turn lead into superconductor rather than gold. Of course, that won't be as important until they start finding uses for electricity.

Computers

A significant portion of our computers' electrical consumption is cooling. But with a superconductor, there is no resistance to produce heat in the wires. Computers would require less cooling and be cheaper to operate.

You could probably pack computer chips more tightly. Currently a big part of chip design is wicking away heat to a heat sink for cooling. Without that concern, there would be more options for chip design.

This is not to say that superconductors would eliminate all heat concerns. But they would reduce a big portion of them.

Of course, they may add a new concern. A room temperature superconductor may not also be a superconductor above room temperature, say at the boiling point for water. So they may require cooling for a different purpose.

Long distance

Currently if we put a power plant (e.g. solar) in New Mexico, we wouldn't send the electricity to New York City. But in this world, that would be perfectly practical. Beyond that, ignoring water issues, it would be practical to run lines around the planet. So solar power generated in the Sahara might power night time use in the United States.

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  • $\begingroup$ In computer chips, most heat is produced when transistors are switching on/off. Another question is, how the superconductor behaves at high frequencies (usually conductors get worse due to skin depth effect). So adding superconductor interconnections to a chip would help, but probably not much. $\endgroup$ – Juraj Aug 20 at 11:54
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A planet would not be affected all that greatly.

First off, the power of superconductors is to be able to cycle current without resistance. If your material is too spread out to form large loops, there won't be any major effect at all. The second issue is that electric energy in a superconductor does not stay around forever. Superconductors have no resistance, but there are other effects which will matter. Whenever you have a loop, you have an inductor, and inductors "couple," which means energy is slowly shared between them via magnetic effects. This can transfer the power to non-superconductors, which then burn that energy out via resistance.

Now if you're interested in how it affects people, that's another question. It really does depend on how hard it is to mine and use. If it's an atrociously brittle material, it may be hard to actually put it in a product. And gold is quite rare, so our ability to use it in an industrial setting would be naturally quite limited. But never underestimate human innovation. We'd find a use for it for sure.

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