Tracing magnetic fields with ground state alignment

Type Journal Article
Names Huirong Yan, A. Lazarian
Publication Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer
Volume 113
Pages 1409-1428
Journal Abbreviation Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer
Date August 1, 2012
DOI 10.1016/j.jqsrt.2012.03.027;
ISSN 0022-4073
Library Catalog NASA ADS
Abstract Observational studies of magnetic fields are vital as magnetic fields play a crucial role in various astrophysical processes, including star formation, accretion of matter, transport processes (e.g. transport of heat), and cosmic rays. The existing ways of magnetic field studies have their limitations. Therefore, it is important to explore new effects that can bring information about magnetic field. We identified a process “ground state alignment” as a new way to determine the magnetic field direction in diffuse medium. The consequence of the process is the polarization of spectral lines resulting from scattering and absorption from aligned atomic/ionic species with fine or hyperfine structure. The alignment is due to anisotropic radiation impinging on the atom/ion, while the magnetic field induces precession and realign the atom/ion and therefore the polarization of the emitted or absorbed radiation reflects the direction of the magnetic field. The atoms get aligned at their low levels and, as the life-time of the atoms/ions we deal with is long, the alignment induced by anisotropic radiation is susceptible to extremely weak magnetic fields (1G≳B≳10-15G). Compared to the upper level Hanle effect, atomic realignment is most suitable for the studies of magnetic field in the diffuse medium, where magnetic field is relatively weak. The corresponding physics of alignment is based on solid foundations of quantum electrodynamics and in a different physical regime the alignment has become a part of solar spectroscopy. In fact, the effects of atomic/ionic alignment, including the realignment in magnetic field, were studied in the laboratory decades ago, mostly in relation to the maser research. Recently, the atomic effect has been already detected in observations from circumstellar medium and this is a harbinger of future extensive magnetic field studies. It is very encouraging that a variety of atoms with fine or hyperfine splitting of the ground or metastable states exhibit the alignment and the resulting polarization degree in some cases exceeds 20%. A unique feature of the atomic realignment is that they can reveal the 3D orientation of magnetic field. In this paper, we shall review the basic physical processes involved in atomic realignment. We shall also discuss its applications to interplanetary, circumstellar and interstellar magnetic fields. In addition, our research reveals that the polarization of the radiation arising from the transitions between fine and hyperfine states of the ground level can provide a unique diagnostics of magnetic fields, including those in the early universe.
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