Copernicium, element 112, is another of the synthetic elements, created only in laboratories and in vanishingly small amounts. One atom was made in 1996, another in 2000 and then two in 2004. Each existed only for a matter of seconds.

The team at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, who created the first two atoms named this new element after Nicolaus Copernicus, the sixteenth century astronomer who proposed the heliocentric model of the universe. Arguing against centuries of belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe, he placed the six known planets, including Earth, in their orbits around the sun, with the stars in the outermost seventh orbit. His was a mathematical model; Galileo later came to the same conclusions based on his telescopic observations.

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