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I'm currently working on a Sci-Fi setting for my friends to use in a campaign (my friend is GM but he's too lazy to come up with a setting so I offered to do it), I've already worked out the minor details (like, what the aliens look like, history, weaponry, etc.) but I keep running into one problem.

The setting relies upon hard Sci-Fi (AKA the exact opposite of the BS that is Star Trek) and I can't find/create a Hard Sci-Fi explanation for this material.

The material I'm trying to explain is (in normal circumstances) completely indestructible (It's not absolutely indestructible, like if you threw it into a black hole it would absolutely be destroyed). Here are the criteria this material has to meet.

1: Material must be near indestructible (methods for destruction could involve throwing it into a black hole or shoving it into the core of a sun).

2: The Material must be extremely valuable (valuable enough for wars to be fought over it)

3: Material must be able to interact with regular matter

4: A nuclear detonation should not be capable of destroying this material... entirely (dropping a nuke directly on top of this material would put it into a Liquid state)

So my question is... How could I scientifically explain a near indestructible super material without having to make it's existence one big handwave?

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    $\begingroup$ I'll wait to see if anyone has a better answer, but what you describe sounds like unobtanium. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 16 '17 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon It does, yes. I introduced the problem of: if the element is indestructible, how the heck can you MAKE it into anything? So have to make it rare element + something common=unobtainium. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jan 16 '17 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ @AngelPray You can't shape it into a drill-head. You can't do anything with it. If a nuke point-blank does nothing, you just have irregular material. You can't use it as ammunition--that's not how guns work. It would be some much trouble to re-arrange a gun's specs to use it, as rare as it is, that it might not even be worth it. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jan 16 '17 at 2:22
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    $\begingroup$ "A nuclear detonation should not be capable of destroying this material" That's... problematic. The heat alone from a nuclear explosion right next to it will cause any known solid material to vaporize. So unless "vaporization" doesn't count as "destruction", what you're talking about is more of that "BS that is Star Trek" that you hate for some reason. $\endgroup$ – Nicol Bolas Jan 16 '17 at 2:22
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    $\begingroup$ Naturally occuring LEGO Bricks? Sign me and the rest of America up! $\endgroup$ – AnAspiringAuthor Jan 16 '17 at 3:22
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Under hard science rules this substance cannot exist in an Earthlike environment

The reason is that we know the physical properties of all the stable and long-lived radioactive atoms. We can also make fairly good preductions (within factor of 2) for hypothesised stable trans-uranium elements.

What holds atoms together in a solid is that they tend to share electrons to tie themselves together. The strength of these bonds varies, but the strongest known have energies of a mere few electron-volts. Temperature is a measure of how hard the bonds between atom's are being shaken. Shake hard enough and the bonds break. Molecules decompose, solids (permanent arrangements of atoms or molecukes) yield to liquids or gases (in which the atoms or molecules are free to move with respect to each other).

The strongest bonds are overcome by a temperature of a few thousand degrees. Tungsten has the highest melting point. Carbon remains solid up to a somewhat higher temperature then goes straight to being a gas.

So there is nothing solid made if atoms that can survive the temperatures found near a nuclear explosion. Indeed, there is nothing solid that can survive the temperature that a mere electric arc can generate.

I mentioned Earthly environment, because extreme pressures can squash atoms back together into solids. That's how the Earth can have a solid core. Extreme gravity can create nuclear matter, which dwarf stars and the surfaces of neutron stars are made of. But these phases of matter are no use because if you could remove some to a low pressure environment in a small quantities, it would explode. They are also quite ridiculously dense.

Finally, if what you want Is a material that can resist a very high temperature for a longer time than most, we have quite a bit of experience with spacecraft re-entry shields and supersonic jets. The former absorb a lot of heat while vaporising, and hold together while the top surface uniformly abates. The latter use strong metals with high melting points and good heat conductivity to take heat away from where it is being generated (leading edges) to cooler parts of the structure.The design of the SR 71 "Blackbird" is now fairly well documented.

If you drop hard science in favour of handwavium, Larry Niven's General Products hull is a cool one liner: a giant single molecule with bonds between atoms artificially strengthened using the power from a small nuclear reactor. But we don't have a clue how that might be accomplished, and I suspect that the laws if thermodynamics say that it's impossible. First rule of handwavium is keep it short!

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THIS ANSWER HAPPENED BEFORE THE HARD-SCIENCE TAG WAS ADDED.

You're having trouble with hard-science because the requirements are pretty dang beyond what we know.

For sure the material might be Baryonic Matter, so I am going to take that optional option off the table. Nearly everything people would be familiar with would be.

Here are some things I would include

1) This material needs to be rare in order to be explained. This will fit with the value criteria.

2) On its own, the material being near indestructible could mean something you might not have foreseen--that is that it's hard to refine and rework something into a viable weapon or really, anything at all unless it can be manipulated or melted down. My suggestion to you would be to have an ultra-rare material that, when combined with something like steel or whatever fits in your world, bonds into an indestructible form. This means that it can never be anything else ever again, and cannot be used in any other way, since it is completely indestructible. It must interact with regular matter in order to do this, as you have in criteria 4. You might have it take on different properties when it interacts or comes in contact with different types of matter.

So my question is... How could I scientifically explain a near indestructible super material without having to make it's existence one big handwave?

Look to space. Make it something that is rare (only comes from a specific star) and make it something that must be re-fined or combined with other matter in space--this can explain why it is not found in atmosphere, and was likely thought to be useless, until someone noticed the combination properties of it. If it goes into atmosphere or in an oxygen-rich environment or a certain amount of gravity or whatever, it falls apart, which is why it's not found on planets.

Bottom line= weak hard to find element that, when combined with something else common, like steel or gold becomes a kind of super matter, which may have the properties you describe (or others, depending).

You can even call it "The Philosopher's Stone" or Philosopher's metal because of its ability to transform other matter.

For this reason, it will be valued, rare, and difficult to work.

Currently, there is nothing even close to what you've outlined as far as I know, and you might find my explaination too full of handwavium, but considering your requirements...

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  • $\begingroup$ Except this doesn't actually explain scientifically what this material is or why it has these properties. In short this answer fails to respond to a question which specifically asks for hard-science, not some way of fitting this material in the story. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Jan 16 '17 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ I am so sorry. Let's add the hard-science tag then, hmm? It has the sci-fi tag, which isn't hard science, might be cause the poster is new. I'm finding a way for it make sense within context, not just be some miracle thing. There is literally nothing in this universe that comes CLOSE to fitting this criteria and I wanted to give them more than NOPE. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jan 16 '17 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ I;ll try and refine the criteria $\endgroup$ – AnAspiringAuthor Jan 16 '17 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ did it. It still might be "impossibe" but I made it a little bit less "impossible" than it originally was $\endgroup$ – AnAspiringAuthor Jan 16 '17 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ @AnAspiringAuthor Hopefully someone can answer it to your satisfaction. I got nothin' but what I already wrote. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jan 16 '17 at 2:32
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I think you might be looking for Tungsten (wolfram) as something that gets close to what might want. It is used in some radiation shielding applications see company selling parts as it is stable to extremely high temperatures and denser than lead. It wouldn't help much to survive a direct impact of a nuke as that is similar to being thrown into the core of a star (briefly); but would provide good shielding if one were close to the nuke. It is used to make Tungsten Carbide, which is also used in a wide variety of applications.

Being able to withstand 10's of millions of degrees of nuke is so far beyond what is normally obtainable that not even saying that a new superalloy that doesn't use sintering of Tungsten was created that has whatever other desired property. At that point you are looking for unobtanium and trying to come up with a plausible sounding explanation for it. A fairly common one is using long lived isotopes from the proposed island of stability and saying they have the properties that one wants.

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My earlier answer for plausible supermaterials makes some people think of the Puppeteer’s GP hull. The material protects an interior that contains a power supply and compute resources, as well as repair and fab facilities.

Furthermore, the exposed surface is covered with programmable matter so it can alter its properties to cope with any chemical or nano-scale attack.

It will adapt and re-configure to repel any threat, and heal the minor damage before it can accumulate.

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There is a theoretical "island of stability" high up in the periodic table. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_stability

Such elements are theoretically possible but have not been created or studed. Of course these materials would be super heavy but other properties can be conferred via handwaving.

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