Rare earth element
As defined by IUPAC
International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry is an international federation of National Adhering Organizations that represents chemists in individual countries. It is a member of the International Council for Science . The international headquarters of IUPAC is located in Zürich,...

, rare earth elements or rare earth metals are a set of seventeen chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

s in the periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

, specifically the fifteen lanthanide
The lanthanide or lanthanoid series comprises the fifteen metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers 57 through 71, from lanthanum through lutetium...

s plus scandium
Scandium is a chemical element with symbol Sc and atomic number 21. A silvery-white metallic transition metal, it has historically been sometimes classified as a rare earth element, together with yttrium and the lanthanoids...

 and yttrium
Yttrium is a chemical element with symbol Y and atomic number 39. It is a silvery-metallic transition metal chemically similar to the lanthanides and it has often been classified as a "rare earth element". Yttrium is almost always found combined with the lanthanides in rare earth minerals and is...

. Scandium and yttrium are considered rare earth elements since they tend to occur in the same ore
An ore is a type of rock that contains minerals with important elements including metals. The ores are extracted through mining; these are then refined to extract the valuable element....

 deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties.

Despite their name, rare earth elements (with the exception of the radioactive promethium
Promethium is a chemical element with the symbol Pm and atomic number 61. It is notable for being the only exclusively radioactive element besides technetium that is followed by chemical elements with stable isotopes.- Prediction :...

) are relatively plentiful
Abundance of elements in Earth's crust
The table shows the abundance of elements in Earth's crust. Numbers show percentage or parts per million in mass; 10,000 ppm = 1%.Note that numbers are estimates, and they will vary depending on source and method of estimation. Order of magnitude of data can roughly be relied upon.The table shows...

 in the Earth's crust
Crust (geology)
In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet or natural satellite, which is chemically distinct from the underlying mantle...

, with cerium
Cerium is a chemical element with the symbol Ce and atomic number 58. It is a soft, silvery, ductile metal which easily oxidizes in air. Cerium was named after the dwarf planet . Cerium is the most abundant of the rare earth elements, making up about 0.0046% of the Earth's crust by weight...

 being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million (similar to copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...