Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Elementarium Mytabeenium

It turns out it is fairly easy to discover an element that already exists, and give it a name that will never be used. Given the number of brief, freakish observations and dodgy or slipshod chemical (or alchymical) procedures, its a wonder that some alternate or parallel periodic table of elements does not contain hundreds or even thousands of could-be or might-have-been element names - the mytabeeniums.

Take coronium. First sighted in the sun's magnificent coronal prominence during a solar eclipse in 1869, it later turned out to be the element of iron heated to a million degrees. Nebulium, also sighted during an eclipse, was a super-energized form of oxygen.

There is even the psychic element occultum, discovered through clairvoyant means by the theosophist Charles Leadbetter. It is documented in the book Occult Chemistry, where it exists in literary form only to this day.
Columbium later turned out to be either tantalum or niobium. One can forgive the error, as the isolation of either element is a matter of great frustration. This probably accounts for their very names. Tantalus was condemned by Zeus to stand under a tree whose fruits were always just out of reach. His daughter, Niobe, is the goddess of tears.

The rare earths - not particularly rare - are particularly hard to separate from each other. Not surprising then that they've been confused one with the other, or their compounds confused as elements, or the element confused as a compound. The element of vanadium has been, by the mineralogist Andres Manuel del Rio, named panchromium, and then later, from the heated red salts, erythronium

Tungsten flirted with being called wolfram, after the ore it is extracted from: wolframite.

A whole host of mytabeeniums come from the Swedish village of Ytterby: Lutecia, Neoytterbia, Cassiopium.

And then there is the element helium, which, for the longest time was considered just a fantasy. The spectral lines of helium were observed in the sun's light (Greek helios: the sun) in 1868 by the French astronomer Pierre Janssen, and a few months later by the British astronomer Norman Lockyear. With no hard evidence to justify their claims, scientists mocked them for years, poking fun at any fantastic notion with the exclamation "That's helium!"

The Scottish chemist Sir William Ramsay vindicated them in 1895, producing a sample of helum gas from the radioactive decay of a uranium mineral. (Alpha particles, one product of radioactive decay, are helium nuclei).

One wonders what strange alternate worlds would exist where such elements are present. Perhaps some Victorian delusion of a world, some parts still trapped in the long 19th century, with others flung into the 31st. Best not to think of it, the mytabeeniums, let loose, would foment nothing less than a far too radical refashioning of reality.

The egg of Chaos cracked open.
Space and time a roiling mass of undifferentiated tissue.
Entropy reset to zero.
I've been through one birth of a universe.
Once was quite sufficient. 

No comments:

Post a Comment