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107
Stories About Chemistry

INDEX

43.  Element Register

   There was once a rum fellow who when told about the stars, about their structure and why they emit light, exclaimed: "I can understand all that! But what I want to know is how the astronomers discovered the names of the different stars."

   Stellar catalogues contain hundreds of thousands of "christened" heavenly bodies. But don't think that such pretty names as "Betelgeuse" or "Syrius" have been thought up for all the stars. Astronomers prefer to denote stars by a sort of code, a combination of letters and figures. If they did not there would be much confusion. But from the code the expert can easily locate the star and determine its spectral class.

   The number of chemical elements is incomparably smaller than of the stars. But here also their names often conceal thrilling stories of their discovery. And chemists who had discovered a new element were not infrequently at a loss to find a name for the "newborn."

   It was important to think up a name which would be at least partly indicative of the element's properties. Such were business names, if you like. They could hardly be called romantic. Examples are hydrogen (the Greek for "producing water'), oxygen ("producing acid"), and phosphorus ("light-bringing'). These names record important properties of the elements.

   Some elements were named after the planets of the solar system; such are selenium, and tellurium (from the Greek for Moon and Earth, respectively), uranium, neptunium and plutonium.





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