As if classified as a top-secret project, the rare earths have been shrouded in secrecy. The principal ore mineral of the group, bastnäsite, rarely appears in the leading mineralogy texts. The long names of the rare-earth elements and some unusual arrangements of letters, many Scandinavian in origin, may have intimidated even those skilled in phonics. Somewhat obscurely labeled, the rare earths are neither rare nor earths (the historical term for oxides). They are a relatively abundant group of metallic elements that occur in nature as nonmetallic compounds and have hundreds of commercial applications.