Names have now been proposed for the four new chemical elements added to the periodic table in January. They are nihonium (with the symbol Nh), moscovium (Mc), tennessine (Ts), and oganesson (Og).

Until now, the quartet had been referred to simply by the number of protons in each atom – 113, 115, 117 and 118, respectively. The elements are the first to be included in the famous table since 2011, and complete its seventh row. But before the names become permanent, they must go out to consultation for five months, but if there are no objections, their confirmation should be a formality.

This will come from the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

All four elements are extreme – the synthetic creations of scientists. None of them exist outside the lab, and were made by bombarding two smaller (though still very large) atomic nuclei together. Uranium with 92 protons is the heaviest naturally occurring element on Earth in any significant abundance.

How Were the Names Reached?

As is customary, the discoverers of the new elements got the right to suggest a name. The rules state that this can reflect a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist. The name also has to be unique and maintain historical and chemical consistency. This explains why there are a lot of “-iums” in the table.

Nihonium references the Japanese name for Japan. Nihon is one of the two names for Japan in Japanese, and means Land of the Rising Sun. The atom was discovered at the RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator Science.

Moscovium was named after the Moscow region, the location of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna.

Tennessine recognises the US state of Tennessee and the local contributions made to the discovery by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Vanderbilt University.

Oganesson honours the nuclear physicist Yuri Oganessian, who has played a leading role in the search for new elements including the one that will now bear his name.

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