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One of two or more species of atoms of a chemical element having nuclei with the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons. They have the same atomic number and hence nearly identical chemical behaviour but different atomic masses. Most elements found in nature are mixtures of several isotopes; tin, for example, has 10 isotopes. In most cases, only stable isotopes of elements are found in nature. The radioactive forms break down spontaneously into different elements (seeradioactivity). Isotopes of all elements heavier than bismuth are radioactive; some occur naturally because they have long half-lives.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on isotope, visit Britannica.com.