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In a quiz contest, I came across the following question: What is the term used to describe the splitting of a heavy nucleus into two lighter nuclei? Two options provided were: a) Alpha Decay b) Fission. Apparently, the correct answer is b) Fission. But even in Alpha Decay, a Helium nucleus is formed (i.e., the alpha particle), along with the daughter nucleus; both of them are obviously lighter than the parent nucleus, and so, doesn't this also fit the required criteria?

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Alpha decay is treated as a special case and is usually not included in the term "fission", although it arguably is a fission (especially in the case of light elements where the alpha can represent an appreciable fraction of the original mass).

So, for the purposes of a quiz you want "fission".

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  • $\begingroup$ Even Carbon-nucleus is emmited in some decays. Then it would be about the speed of the thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 15:16
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The key of the question is: "heavy nucleus into two lighter nuclei".

Alpha decay produces only one nuclei - a Helium nucleus.

Fission is the right answer.

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    $\begingroup$ What about the daughter nucleus? $\endgroup$
    – pfnuesel
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 9:26

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