The actinides (sometimes called actinoids) occupy the "bottom line" of the periodic table—a row of elements normally separated from the others, placed at the foot of the chart along with the lanthanides. Both of these families exhibit unusual atomic characteristics, properties that set them apart from the normal sequence on the periodic table. But there is more that distinguishes the actinides, a group of 14 elements along with the transition metal actinium. Only four of them occur in nature, while the other 10 have been produced in laboratories. These 10 are classified, along with the nine elements to the right of actinium on Period 7 of the periodic table, as transuranium (beyond uranium) elements. Few of these elements have important applications in daily life; on the other hand, some of the lower-number transuranium elements do have specialized uses. Likewise several of the naturally occurring actinides are used in areas ranging from medical imaging to powering spacecraft. Then there is uranium, "star" of the actinide series: for centuries it seemed virtually useless; then, in a matter of years, it became the most talked-about element on Earth.

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