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The mass number (A), also called atomic mass number or nucleon number, is the total number of protons and neutrons (together known as nucleons) in an atomic nucleus. It determines the atomic mass of atoms. Because protons and neutrons both are baryons, the mass number A is identical with the baryon number B as of the nucleus as of the whole atom or ion. The mass number is different for each different isotope of a chemical element. This is not the same as the atomic number (Z) which denotes the number of protons in a nucleus, and thus uniquely identifies an element. Hence, the difference between the mass number and the atomic number gives the number of neutrons (N) in a given nucleus: N=A−Z.

The mass number is written either after the element name or as a superscript to the left of an element's symbol. For example, the most common isotope of carbon is carbon-12, or 12C, which has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. The full isotope symbol would also have the atomic number (Z) as a subscript to the left of the element symbol directly below the mass number: 12
6
C
. This is technically redundant, as each element is defined by its atomic number, so it is often omitted.


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