The contrasting fission potential-energy structure of actinides and mercury isotopes

Research paper by Takatoshi Ichikawa, Akira Iwamoto, Peter Möller, Arnold J. Sierk

Indexed on: 15 Jun '12Published on: 15 Jun '12Published in: Nuclear Theory


Fission-fragment mass distributions are asymmetric in fission of typical actinide nuclei for nucleon number $A$ in the range $228 \lnsim A \lnsim 258$ and proton number $Z$ in the range $90\lnsim Z \lnsim 100$. For somewhat lighter systems it has been observed that fission mass distributions are usually symmetric. However, a recent experiment showed that fission of $^{180}$Hg following electron capture on $^{180}$Tl is asymmetric. We calculate potential-energy surfaces for a typical actinide nucleus and for 12 even isotopes in the range $^{178}$Hg--$^{200}$Hg, to investigate the similarities and differences of actinide compared to mercury potential surfaces and to what extent fission-fragment properties, in particular shell structure, relate to the structure of the static potential-energy surfaces. Potential-energy surfaces are calculated in the macroscopic-microscopic approach as functions of fiveshape coordinates for more than five million shapes. The structure of the surfaces are investigated by use of an immersion technique. We determine properties of minima, saddle points, valleys, and ridges between valleys in the 5D shape-coordinate space. Along the mercury isotope chain the barrier heights and the ridge heights and persistence with elongation vary significantly and show no obvious connection to possible fragment shell structure, in contrast to the actinide region, where there is a deep asymmetric valley extending from the saddle point to scission. The mechanism of asymmetric fission must be very different in the lighter proton-rich mercury isotopes compared to the actinide region and is apparently unrelated to fragment shell structure. Isotopes lighter than $^{192}$Hg have the saddle point blocked from a deep symmetric valley by a significant ridge. The ridge vanishes for the heavier Hg isotopes, for which we would expect a qualitatively different asymmetry of the fragments.