Periodically, things do change.

Scientists recently made quite an announcement. Like something out of the Book of Genesis, behold, new elements have been born. Incredibly, not just one, but four new elements have recently been discovered.

Though I haven’t thought much about the periodic table since college chemistry, I was intrigued by news of those four new elements. Two teams of scientists, one from Japan and the other a Russian/U.S. partnership, announced that the last, or seventh, row of the periodic table has been completed.

Four new elements, numbers 113, 115, 117, and 118, have been positively confirmed, and their origin is much more than elemental. 

In a complex series of experiments using a particle accelerator, these four elements were created by nuclear fusion and decayed by fission. None of these elements are found normally in nature. Rather they only appear during radioactive decay and quickly become other lighter, more stable elements. Described as “synthetic, very unstable and extremely rare,” they last only approximately one-one thousandth of a second.

The agencies in charge of documenting and confirming the existence of new elements are the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). They accepted the four new elements on Dec. 30 of last year.

Permanent naming rights, however, go to the scientists who discovered the elements. While the discoverers decide what these new elements will be called, the IUPAC gave them temporary names in addition to their numbers. Respectively elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 are being referred to with the following names and abbreviations: ununtrium (Uut), ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus) and ununoctium (Uuo).

These elements are considered “superheavy,” because of the large numbers of protons. This designation and the passing of a rock star have created a stir in regard to the naming of at least one of these new elements.

A petition has been in circulation with the suggestion of naming the heaviest, number 118, after Lemmy Kilmister, lead singer of heavy metal band Motörhead, who died only two days before the announcement of the new element. The petition suggests that Lemmium would be the perfect name for the heaviest element and a perfect tribute to the heavy metal rocker. Could this start a trend, with petitions coming in favor of David Bowie or others raucous rockers?

There are other plans for element 117. A proposal was made to call ununseptium Octarine, in honor of author Terry Pratchett, who died in March of 2015. In the British author’s Discworld series of books, Octarine is described as “the King Colour, of which all the lesser colours are merely partial and wishy-washy reflections.” Octarine was also described as “the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind. It was enchantment itself.”

The fleeting nature of 117 might be the reason for this suggestion.

Under IUPAC guidelines for naming, only names of “a mythological concept, mineral, place or country, property or scientist” will be considered. Both petitions claim that they meet those standards, though one may be curious where Lemmy would fit in that description. We will have to table the naming discussion for now, since only time and the IUPAC will tell.   

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.