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Ununseptium: New Element 117 Discovered, Better Name to Come

An international team of scientists working at a Russian physics lab have discovered a new element which is the second-heaviest yet discovered. This new element, numbered 117, is currently going by the placeholder name “ununseptium,” which, like other names given to superheavy elements like “ununbium,” “ununquadium,” and the excellent “unununium,” is merely a description of its own atomic number. (one-one-seven –> “117.”)

But fear not: While they were too superstitious to come up with a name before their discovery, which involved slamming calcium isotopes against berkelium, they’re now at work coming up with a name for the element, which is apparently very serious business in the world of physics:

From the New York Times:

Dr. Shaughnessy was, however, much less forthcoming about what the element might eventually be called. A name based on a laboratory or someone involved in the discovery is considered one of the highest honors in science. Berkelium, for example, was first synthesized at the University of California at Berkeley.

“We’ve never discussed names because it’s sort of like bad karma,” Dr. Shaughnessy said. “It’s like talking about a no hitter during the no hitter. We’ve never spoken of it aloud.”

Other researchers were equally circumspect, even when invited to suggest a whimsical, temporary moniker for the element. “Naming elements is a serious question, in fact,” Yuri Oganessian, a nuclear physicist at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, said in an e-mail message. “This takes years,” said Dr. Oganessian, who is the lead author on the paper.

The heaviest known element is STILL number 118, ununoctium, which lasted for a fraction of a second before breaking down.

(NYT via @erinbiba’s Twitter)

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