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In a sci-fi universe where man has the capability to leave our solar system would metals or alloys above and beyond our own be possible? Or at least within the bounds of reasonable possibility? As the title and setup implies these metals of course would be from way out among the stars.

Never explicitly detailed except for a detail or two, to avoid direct confrontation with the laws of physics. By this I mean that there are no page long descriptions of them. Only a direct comparison to a metal or metals that actually exist. I.E; twice the weight of lead and otherwise identical. Tenth of the weight of titanium, with seemingly all the benefits of titanium only it behaves like steel. Just two examples. Of course these metals would range from relatively common for alloys like the heavier lead to rare as hens teeth.

This might not even have to be more than a couple of new elements that they could use for alloys. Using super advanced alloys to reach the same result and might actually be better in that I don't have to define their exact make up. A little more leeway before we reach a point of ignoring physics like most sci-fi does to a detrimental extreme. I am trying to avoid throwing reason to the wind though reasonable suspension of disbelief might be alright.

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    $\begingroup$ What are you asking? within the suspension of disbelief could they exist? Of course. Never explicitly detailed except for a detail or two... Now it's irrelevant. You can always use technobabble as a variable name for a non-existent object. Would such metals be possible or would they break the laws of physics entirely? Since you haven't defined but a detail or two, how can we tell? the use of alloys might actually be better which just obsoleted your question. The SE model is one-specific-question/one-best-answer. Ask one question. Be specific. What are you asking? $\endgroup$ – JBH May 28 at 6:49
  • $\begingroup$ I've reworded it in an attempt to clarify, hopefully better choosing my words this time. $\endgroup$ – neo May 28 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ OK. You did very well and I appreciate it. I've retracted my close vote and have voted to reopen. It's worth noting that unless you go the fantasy material route (aka, kryptonite) where it's basically undefined on Earth and described only by what it does to Superman, your option is to fill in the numbers on the periodic table of elements. In other words, your metals must have an atomic weight greater than 118 and other restrictions chemists would know more about. Are you seeking that level of detail? (It's almost required if testing feasibility.) $\endgroup$ – JBH May 28 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ Just simply knowing that it would be directly against the periodic is an answer in a form. That leaves either ignoring physics or unspecified alloy/higher refinement as the only two options. And if the higher refinement was handed down by extraterrestrials that would be the reason they are informally known as star metals. $\endgroup$ – neo May 28 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ They might find something from the stable island if they find the remains of a sufficiently strange natural occurrence, Not sure if anything in the island is a metal however. .en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_stability $\endgroup$ – John May 29 at 0:27
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As the other answers have said, just with pure naturally occurring materials, no.

But why limit yourself to natural materials?

From Wikipedia:

A metamaterial is a material engineered to have a property that is not found in naturally occurring materials ... Metamaterials derive their properties not from the properties of the base materials, but from their newly designed structures. Their precise shape, geometry, size, orientation and arrangement gives them their smart properties capable of manipulating electromagnetic waves: by blocking, absorbing, enhancing, or bending waves, to achieve benefits that go beyond what is possible with conventional materials.

For example, Vantablack is a surface of vertically aligned nanotubes that reflect virtually no light. Acoustic metamaterials can block sound while allowing air to pass.

Your astronaut-miners aren't digging through rock for natural materials - they're scavenging the abundantly manufactured materials of a long-extinct alien race, whose technology was ten thousand years ahead of our own.

We don't know why they died out, but their planet's climate means that their vast metropolises are astonishingly well-preserved. We certainly don't know how they manufactured their skyscraper-tall buildings that don't block radio signals, or the feather-light metals that made their flying machines. We don't know why their cutting implements never lose their razor edge, or how their mining drills are ten times as hard as diamond. The superconducting material in their strange vehicles quantum levitates without being super-cooled, and we can't explain it.

Maybe we will discover their secrets in the coming centuries, but until then, we can't make anything even close. As for you the author, you certainly don't have to explain how any of these alloys work. It would be strange if you could.

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  • $\begingroup$ Amazing answer! I genuinely hadn't thought of that. $\endgroup$ – neo May 28 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ Do you think the dancing pants of that long extinct alien race might fit me? And maybe some are still in the unruined ruins? Because think how awesome my dancing would be in those super-cooled pants! $\endgroup$ – Willk May 28 at 22:02
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No, theres no room on the periodic table

An image depicting the periodic table of elements https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-47008289

As you can see from the image, every element as an atomic number ranging from 1 to 118. However, there is not any space for numbers to go anywhere between Iron (FE number 26) and Tungsten (W number 74), all the atomic numbers represent other known elements.

Whilst technically there is more space after number 118, unfortunately for you the element is very unlikely to be stable or to have the desired properties you want. Additionally, we might not even know its state of matter. Contrary to what is taught in schools, there are actually 6 states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, plasma and two others (I don’t know the last two as they have exceptionally long and hard to remember names). Anyway, thats beside the point, my point is is that even if we discovered a material similar to what you describe, its likely to be unstable, radioactive and it might not even be a solid at any useable temperature.


However, you might be able to use nano-materials

A couple years ago i visited a laboratory where the scientists were looking at practical applications of nano-materials. When known elements are reduced to the size of nanoparticles, they can behave vastly differently to how they do when there are larger quantities of material. For example, they found that when gold is reduced in size, it changes colour and eventually it becomes invisible.

The eventual uses of this research was to help create nanotechnology. The researchers there, again using gold for their examples, stated that by using nanoparticles of gold, you could create a computer that was flat but you could pick it up, bend it around your wrist and it would still function. The purpose of this would be to create something like a smart watch or a phone on your arm (similar to the Omni-tool from Mass Effect). There were other applications of these materials such as creating nano-machines to administer medication into your bloodstream or to fight infections (similar to how white blood cells do).

Applying this to your question, it may be possible to use nanoparticles of existing elements to create highly advanced materials. You might even be able to create a nanoparticle-based alloy to create the material you want.

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  • $\begingroup$ There are scientific papers out there claiming that there may be other stable plateaus at many hundreds of protons $\endgroup$ – Andrey May 28 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey True but, as i say, its unlikely to find one suitable, even if they do exist. As of yet, i do not believe there is any concrete evidence of this as such elements have not yet been discovered. Whilst yes we could make an educated guess at what the properties of such elements would be, until they are discovered, there is no way to actually prove those guesses right. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris - Reinstate Monica May 28 at 20:05
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They probably wouldn't exist, but you might get away with one or two.

The problem lies in Mendeleev's table: all substances are defined by the number of protons Z in their nucleus, and we know what substances are created with N protons, with N between 1 and 115-ish. We also know that, roughly, beyond a certain point, the atom nucleus grows too big for the strong nuclear force to be able to keep it together.

So, beyond a certain Z, atoms are unstable; and with lower Zs, we know what we would get and it isn't any "star metal". In other words, your star metal has no "slot" where it could exist.

However, there seems to be an "island of stability" with substances that do not self-destruct almost instantly, but last some fractions of a second before disintegrating.

You might therefore posit a further island of stability, with Z beyond 130 (say), where unforeseen and not necessarily explained "geometric properties" allow one or two substances to be almost indefinitely stable. These substances would almost certainly be metals, incredibly dense - more than lead or uranium, possibly more than osmium; soft and malleable, decent electricity conductors.

The reason they only exist in outer space is that the energy required to create them is immense - even more than heavy metals. These "superheavy metals" require a hypernova explosion to be created in any significant quantity.

A relevant use of such metals is less clearly designed, though. You need something that only alien phlebotinum can do, something extremely valuable - enough to launch a thousand starships to mine it from remote, hostile places.

Perhaps some weird chemical property - who knows, a catalyzer with the ability of transferring phased electrical energy directly into precise, customised chemical bonds. This could become the easiest way of cleaning up a polluted Earth's atmosphere, precipitating carbon and nitrous/sulphur oxides (imagine a sieve through which enormous quantities of air flow freely - all the while silently shedding an impalpable black diamond, soot or fullerene powder that gets scrubbed).

Or they could have unexplained, incredible tensile strength (either alone or in combination with, say, carbon nanotubes). This would make them incredibly valuable for the construction of space elevators, which in turn allow cheap (think 100x or even 1000x) and environment-friendly space launches (this happens in Timothy Zahn's Spinneret).

Or they could be the essential component for Goldberg quantum resonators, devices capable of measuring and transferring precise, minute and controlled amounts of energy within a radius of a foot or so. Coupled with a powerful enough computer, these devices can, in a few hours or days depending on the volume treated, cure not only cancer but old age too (they would be a miniaturized version of Iain M. Banks' Culture's effectors, capable of manipulating matter at the atomic level through the fourth dimension). The length of a treatment (you need to rewrite trillions of cells in a body) would mean that the only practical way to process more people within their lifetimes would be to build more devices, but to do so you need space metal for the "recording heads". Even Earth rare metals do not allow the required precision, making the machines worth billions, their services auctioned to the highest bidder (something vaguely like this, minus the space metal, occurs in E. C. Tubb's S.T.A.R. Flight).

Other possibilites - does it need to be a metal? Or a "natural" occurrence?

Space iron cannot be different from Earth iron because iron is iron everywhere (this is the premise of "Omnilingual" by H. Beam Piper).

But composite materials can exist in a much greater variety of configurations, some of which might not exist on Earth. So, for example, the radiation spectrum of a faraway sun might transform ordinary cotton into some exotic material, too costly to reproduce otherwise (this is Isaac Asimov's The Currents of Space).

Or drugs. Lots of leeway there.

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No need to go beyond periodic table and laws if physics. Just shift the environment to get some interesting exotic examples:

  1. Metals that exist on Earth in pure form only as curiosities because they quickly corrode or outright explode on contact with oxygen or water: sodium, calcium, potassium, rubidium, etc. In inert atmosphere or vacuum they can persist naturally. Calcium would be usable as lightweight conductor (it has better conductivity/weight ratio as aluminium). There's also an interesting alloy of sodium and potassium (NaK) which is liquid at room temperature.
  2. Many non-metal elements, or even molecules like water, have metallic form at extreme pressures, such as inside gas giant planets.
  3. Technetium is a metal that does not naturally exist on Earth because it decays in millions of years. It was only man-made and it's not practical to make big quantities. But interstellar explorers could reach places enriched by recent supernova explosion where it could be mined. It was found to confer seawater resistance to steel if added in small amount.
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Yes and No.

No. The elements defined in the periodic table of elements are going to be pretty much universal and your not going to find a magical new element like you have described. Just because its a different location in space, doesn't let it defy the laws of physics (unless of course our interpretation of the laws of physics are incorrect).

Yes. The most likely situation is that alien species will be using super allows and ceramics that we haven't stumbled upon yet. There are an unending number of mixes and matches that could be created that we simply haven't tried them out yet. Once these have been identified, and a suitable construction method created, they would simply be integrated into society like any other new material. E.g. reinforced concrete, plastics, metals

Magical Yes. Of course its entirely possible to use magic or fantasy to create super metals. Many worlds already do this because it follows a very simply thought process. If iron is +1, then the next metal is +2, then next +3 the next +4 and so on. A linear sequence of progressively more powerful metals that don't exist in the periodic table, are made by dodgy scientists who don't document or record their work and apparently have infinite funding with no oversight. They also like to delve into the mystical elements, like the heart of a star (Hydrogen or Helium?) or meteors from outer space ( Adamantium ), or some mumbo jumbo chemical name . Magical elements have no laws restricting them. It all depends on how much the audience is willing to accept which in some cases results in galaxies being used as throwing stars.

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If your material is allowed to be radioactive, it might still be compatible with suspension of disbelief to posit existence of some island-of-stability nuclei that are not observed in the solar system today because they have half-lives on the order of a few million years. One could posit that small quantities of such elements are regularly produced by supernovae and that one can mine them in young solar systems that formed in the aftermath of a recent supernova. I am not an astronomer, but I do not think the spectral properties of the hypothesized island of stability elements have yet been constrained well enough that spectral analysis of supernova remnants would rule this out. I would also suppose that if production rates of such nuclei are reasonably low, we would not necessarily have seen them in the solar system as part of incoming galactic cosmic radiation.

Also, in addition to the alien tech metamaterials that have been mentioned in another answer, it is perfectly possible to imagine that an alien biosphere would yield materials that we cannot reproduce artificially and that we are unable to farm the organisms making these materials on Earth. For instance, it may be that the reef-building creatures of Ong'azur only grow in their native ocean with a 30-hour day/night cycle at a temperature of 200° C with the ocean kept liquid by an atmospheric pressure of 100 bar. In that case, we may be able to study some specimens on Earth in a lab, but certainly not at the scale needed to harvest their precious shells commercially.

(You would still have to somehow make space travel/mining on Ong'azur very cheap or the material very valuable to make this believable. But this is a separate problem.)

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Maybe, depending on how hard you want your science

Cribbing off one of my other answers, you could get around this by extending the Periodic Table into the third dimension. Have a rare, exotic quark formation that can take the place of a proton in the atom's nucleus. That particle (let's call it a deion) has the same charge as a proton, but a different mass, and might have other different interactions (has mass but gravity has no effect, absorbs photons and emits something else, etc). And the more deions an atom has instead of protons, the greater the effect.

As for where deions come from, you could hand wave it, or invent a rare interaction (when a charged quantum filament and a black hole between fifteen and eighteen solar masses love each other very much, they have a special kind of hug...).

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