Nihonium element 113, Moscovium element 115, Tennessine element 117, and Oganesson element 118

Welcome to the four newest members of the periodic table!

The periodic table doesn’t change very often, which is why it’s worth celebrating when it does. This month, three new elements were inaugurated at a ceremony in Russia. And in Tokyo, a fourth was welcomed to the world. Say hello to moscovium, tennessine, oganessson and nihonium!

Let’s back up a bit: what is an element? Elements are the different types of atoms that exist. So oxygen is an element, and hydrogen is an element, but water is not – it’s a chemical made of oxygen and hydrogen atoms.

Each atom has a nucleus at its centre. Elements are classified by the number of protons in their nucleus. This number is important, because it also lets us know how the electrons whizzing around the atom will behave. When two chemicals react, it’s all about electrons. The nucleuses don’t touch. If they did, you wouldn’t have a chemical reaction, you’d get a nuclear one!

The four new elements are all very big. The smallest one, nihonium, still has 113 protons in its nucleus. That’s much larger than more common atoms. Oxygen has eight protons, and hydrogen only has one!

These huge new atoms are too large to be stable. Soon after they are created they start losing bits, shrinking down to smaller, more stable elements. Which means sadly, you won’t be getting a moscovium paperweight any time soon. But creating new elements and watching them decay can teach us a lot about what happens inside an atom.

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